Book Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

This was the second read of my banned books challenge last year.

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Jason Reynolds. Probably the most controversial post I’ve written on this blog is the one where I fact-checked Jason Reynold’s nonfiction book Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You. But he’s a great writer, and I like his other books.

About the Book

Title: All-American Boys

Author: Jason Reynolds

Published: 2015

Series: (standalone)

Genre: YA, contemporary

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Premise

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

“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.

My Thoughts

This was the second read of my banned books challenge last year.

All American Boys was banned/challenged in 2020 for “profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be ‘too much of a sensitive matter right now'”

I thought this book was decently well-written although it did adopt a slang/gen Z style ostensibly to get us into the boys’ heads. Some reviewers have criticized this, but I thought it helped to establish verisimilitude.

The writing style and political/social issues discussions were a little simplistic and “young YA”-ish, though. (I’m the same age as the protagonists but they felt younger than me)

All American Boys follows two 16-year-old boys who go to the same school. Rashad is black and becomes a victim of police brutality when he is accused of stealing from a store. Quinn is white and is friends with the younger brother of the offending officer.

I liked that the book had a message of unity, peaceful protest and standing up for justice, and I thought it did a pretty good job of analyzing “the other side” (and by that I mean “back-the-blue” people) while still taking a clear position at the end. While Paul (the violent officer) was clearly the villain of the story, the book introduced gray area with Rashad’s father, a black policeman.

The book did interpret some things as black-and-white when they could probably have more nuance to them. For example, Quinn automatically decides he must be “racist” for reflexively defending Paul at first, but the book doesn’t really address that Quinn’s automatic defense of Paul could also have been influenced by the fact that Quinn grew up with Paul and looked up to Paul but had never spoken to Rashad.

The Verdict

Overall, I was glad I read this one although I didn’t love everything about it. I’d recommend All American Boys by Jason Reynolds if you’re looking for a good YA book that tackles social issues.

Have you read All American Boys by Jason Reynolds? If so, what did you think of it?

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1 comments on “Book Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds”

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