Book Review: All American Boys – Where Love of Craft Meets Love of Humanity and Hope | Jennifer Schneider | 3 Min Read

In All American Boys, authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely masterfully craft a story both for and of the ages. Reynolds and Kiely produce a gripping work in the Young Adult genre that simultaneously captures contemporary tensions and captivates readers for all time. Reynolds is a 2015 Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe Award for New Talent awardee and the author of The Boy in the Black Suit. Kiely is the author of The Gospel of Winter and one of the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adult works awardees in 2015. Both authors are masterful storytellers and All American Boys is a masterful story. 

Enjoy the story of what it is like to grow up in the United States and what it means to be a victim of, witness to, and fighter against racial injustice as it is recounted and shared through the voices of the work’s two principal characters: Rashad and Quinn. The teenage protagonists, who alternate chapters in a dual first-person point of view, are relevant and relatable. Rashad is African American and the victim of police brutality and racism. Quinn is white and an observer of this horrific act. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, the two protagonists’ differences, they share the power of story to change lives and readers forever. 

Tim Wise (2016), an anti-racist educator, activist, and speaker has long cautioned that whenever we look out and see inequalities in our society, “there are no accidents, only precedents.” The injustice Rashad suffered was also no accident. Wise (2016) also notes that “[i]f we know what those things are we can move forward with intention.” Quinn soon realizes this, as well. Quinn and Rashad explore, in parallel, ways to move forward with intention after the horrific violence. The chapters relay Quinn and Rashad’s well-paced changing perspectives and their associated, equally well-paced actions. The protagonists’ voices are strong, original, and authentic. Themes, including coming of age and friendship, are consistent and explored with a depth that is appropriate and transformative. The authors pair powerful storytelling with a clear passion for the craft. Energetic use of dialogue, consistently relatable action, and authentic narrative voice are woven expertly throughout the entirety of the work. All American Boys reads like a conversation about society’s persistent ills. 

The daily news often conveys the stories of our streets, mostly from the perspective of adults, uninvolved bystanders, and/or disinterested observers. All American Boys, in contrast, tells these stories through the eyes and experiences of those most capable of getting it right: the youth. As the protagonists undergo transformations as a result of close friendships, casual interactions, and self-reflection, the authors take readers on a journey of growth that has the potential to transform not only present-day perspectives but long-term futures. A classic the likes of The Outsiders, All American Boys offers insights into the complexity of the human condition and the deep, sometimes impenetrable cracks in the structures and systems that make up our present society. The work simultaneously offers insights into deeply racist systems as well as a possibly brighter, more equitable path forward through character, connection, and communication. The work is infinitely suitable for readers of all ages, most especially the middle school and young adult reader, but just as aptly for anyone interested in learning more about the experiences of teens in our presently deeply racist society. The work is also hopeful and a source of hope. While it is written in a chronological format, its emotional appeal is All American Boys’ greatest strength. The work is simultaneously sad and hopeful, devastating and inspiring, emotionally complex, and easily relatable. The work is precisely suited to our current needs and also infinitely timeless. Read it. Talk about it — inside homes and schools. Outside, too. Everywhere. Share with those you care about. All American Boys is an all-American must-read and sure to become a classic.

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