Rashad is absent again today.
That’s the sidewalk graffiti that started it all…
Well, no, actually, a lady tripping over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, was what started it all. Because it didn’t matter what Rashad said next—that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. So then Rashad, an ROTC kid with mad art skills, was absent again…and again…stuck in a hospital room. Why? Because it looked like he was stealing. And he was a black kid in baggy clothes. So he must have been stealing.
And that’s how it started.
And that’s what Quinn, a white kid, saw. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul…He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school—and nation—start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be.
Rashad and Quinn—one black, one white, both American—face the unspeakable truth that racism and prejudice didn’t die after the civil rights movement. There’s a future at stake, a future where no one else will have to be absent because of police brutality. They just have to risk everything to change the world.
Cuz that’s how it can end.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: racism, police brutality, assault, racial profiling.
All-American Boys is quite of a throwback read – but then again, isn’t that my brand? -, but it’s still so worth picking up. Covering similar themes as books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin, All-American Boys is a powerful talk on racism, white privilege and speaking up.
This is told in dual perspectives – Rashad and Quinn -, written respectively by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The book reads like one, though, and the perspectives, albeit different, weren’t conflicting to the point it felt like two different books in one.
By the way, I warn you: this is going to be a looooooong review. I apologize in advance, but this read made me think about way too many things.
- Rashad’s father. Rashad’s father was one of the most interesting characters in my opinion. I can see how he reflects a great deal of society, and understandably so, as his behaviour is definitely a result of systemic racism. Rashad’s dad is a cop, and pressures him a lot into ROTC, for believing that this is the “only chance for a black boy in this country”. He also disapproves Spoony’s (Rashad’s brother) dreadlocks and even implies that what happened to Rashad was a consequence of him wearing baggy clothes. At the same time I was reading this, I also gave the movie for The Hate U Give a re-watch and it made me reflect how Starr’s father is the complete opposite. He makes his kids memorize the Black Panther Ten-Point Program. He reminds them that being black is a honor. Rashad’s father is the other side of the spectrum; he feels like being away from his own “blackness” is a way to remain safe. Personally, I know a lot of people like Rashad’s father. But the book makes sure to question that, introducing characters like Spoony and even Rashad himself, who are still trying to be connected with their own culture, despite what society may say.
- Quinn’s development. When we start the book, Quinn is just your typical white kid: he’d much rather stay away from all the rising “drama”. In a lot of ways, he believes that if he just ignores what happened, things will get back to where they were. He chooses to be blind to the conflict and to racism in general, but overtime, he grows to understand that he’s a very important piece in this board. I love that Quinn’s perspective calls out on white privilege, but also shows what we, as white people, can do to help. He learns how to speak up, how to stand up for what’s right, despite who he may hurt in the process.
- The cop wasn’t played as a victim. To make things more complicated, Quinn knows the cop who beat Rashad. They’re close friends and Paul – the cop – was an important paternal figure to Quinn, once his own dad passed away. When I first found this out, I felt like the book was trying to humanize the cop and play him as a “good guy who made the wrong choices”. But this doesn’t happen, at all. The man that Quinn knew and grew up with and the cop who beat Rashad are treated like two different people, and I appreciate that a lot. I feel like when narratives like that happen in real life, the white cop is always played as a “good man”, who “carried for his family” and it gets on my nerves sometimes.
- The similarities between the two perspectives. Even though Rashad and Quinn have very different lives, I appreciated how they still felt very similar. I think when we address diversity in books, it’s somewhat powerful being able to identify with someone whom you never thought you would. A lot of discrimination and hatred comes from the fear of differences, so I appreciate when a book is able to showcase the shared characteristics by two people who are put by society in two different worlds.
- How real the story felt. The ending of this book, similar to The Hate U Give, shows all the names of real black kids who died unarmed, killed by the police. It’s heartbreaking and definitely made me tear up a little. Even though this is a fictional story, Rashad’s story is not that different from what we see in the news sometimes. On top of that, I also love how real the characters were and how they were smoothly introduced in the story, not feeling like an info-dump of characters and personalities at all.
- The ending. Obviously, I’ll try to keep things spoiler-free, but the ending was a bit too open, which frustrated me a lot. I like open endings, but this one did not give enough closure to these characters.
- The writing style. For the first two chapters, I felt like I was about to put this book down. The writing was digressive and a bit out of focus. It was also too slang-y to my taste? It truly was accurate to a teenage boy perspective, and I understand why it was done, but it felt hard to get through it. However, as the story grows more serious, the tone also darkens a little bit and I flew through the rest of the book very well.
Overall, this book was an amazing and powerful experience. With books like The Hate U Give and Dear Martin getting so much praise, I really recommend you also pick up All American Boys. It may be a backlist title, but it’s just as impactful as the more recent ones.
Books like this one remind me why I adore reading so much. I do love some funny and entertaining reads, but the hard-hitting stories are the ones I feel like inspire change. I think it’s phenomenal when a book gets so many thoughts in my mind, makes me reflect on storylines so different from mine and, mainly, inspires me to always stand up for what I believe is right.
So, after the LONGEST review of my life: let me hear your thoughts! Have you ever read All-American Boys? If so, how did you like it? Let’s chat in the comments!