Module 5: All American Boys

Reynolds, J. and Kiely, B. (2015). All American Boys. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Genre: Realistic fiction, Coretta Scott King Honor. Realistic fiction because it is set in contemporary times with no magic or other speculative elements.

Book Summary: All Rashad wants to do is pop into a convenience store and pick up some chips on his way to a party on a Friday night. What happens, though, changes everything. Rashad bends down to pick out his cell phone from his bag, a woman trips over him, and the next thing he knows, a cop has him handcuffed and is beating him. He ends up in the hospital, and — subsequently — the subject of discussion of police brutality in the community, a place that Rashad doesn’t want to be.

Quinn, a member of the basketball team, witnesses Rashad being beaten, and is friends with officer, who has been like a second father to Quinn, since his father’s death. Quinn’s struggle is a decision whether or not he wants to become political and speak out against his friend.

Impressions: Oh, wow. I’d been putting this book off for years, mostly because I thought it was a football book. (Shows you what I know!)  But, this one — especially in the light of all the books dealing with police brutality in the wake of Ferguson (among others) — really packs a punch, especially for me as a white person. I really appreciated the dichotomy between Rashad — who is just grateful to be alive and who is trying to figure out answers why — and Quinn — who has a much more passive decision to make, in whether or not he wants to speak out about what he saw. It really does provide a lot of food for thought, and brings forward white privilege in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen before. While this book was hard to read — both Reynold and Kiely are masters of getting across emotion in as few words as possible — it is an important one.

Review: Magoon praises the book, reflecting on the dissonance between the white and black characters and praising it for the questions it raises with readers. Her final thoughts were: “It is perhaps too easy to call this worthy book timely and thought-provoking. Let us reach beyond simple praise and treat it instead as a book to be grappled with, challenged by, and discussed.”

Magoon, K. (2015, December 8). ‘All American Boys’ by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The New York Times [New York]. Retrieved from:  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/books/review/all-american-boys-by-jason-reynolds-and-brendan-kiely.html.

Library Uses: I would put this one on a display of either books about African American life, Coretta Scott King award winners, or books reflecting the issues in the news. This would also be fantastic for a book group.

Readalikes:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This book is written from the point of view of the friend of a boy who was shot by police. She was a witness to the event, and because of that, her grief was made political. It touches on the topic of police brutality as well as systematic racism in the country.
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone: Through letters to Martin Luther King Junior, the main character looks at race relations in America — he is Ivy League-bound — and the judgement of the media after he has a run-in with a white, off-duty officer.
  • Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes: This one is written for a slightly younger audience, but touches on the topic of police violence as well. The main character is shot by an officer, and spends the rest of the book as a ghost as he watches his family and friends deal with his death.
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Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under our Feet

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence (of course), but nothing else. I’d give it to a middle schooler or higher who’s interested in it. It’s in the Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect heading into this one; Black Panther isn’t a superhero I was really familiar with until the movie trailers started playing. But, it looked cool, and I thought I’d give it a try.

What I got was a really intriguing, somewhat complicated, very deep story about King T’Challa who comes back from being away (he was off fighting with the Avengers) and finding his country in chaos. He’s not sure if he can be a leader, or even really sure how to be the leader his people want. And it doesn’t help that there are two distinct groups rebelling against him. One has a mind-controller (I think) involved, and that’s the one T’Challa is most concerned with. But there’s this other one (to be honest, I liked their story better), a couple of women soldiers who go renegade and start punishing men for treating women badly (timely, no?) and decide that no one man should lead the country.

As I said, it’s a complex, fascinating story about what it means to have power, what it means to be a citizen of a country, and the dichotomy between holding on to one’s traditions and moving toward the future. There was a lot to think about in these four issues, and it kind of makes me want to continue the story, just to see what happens to T’Challa and Wakanda, in the end.

When They Call You a Terrorist

by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Sociology section at the bookstore.

This book, from one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, is small, but it packs a punch. It’s basically Cullors’ life, growing up poor in LA in the 1990s, and how that experience — along with the arrests of her biological father and brother — propelled her to activism and the forming of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I am a white, cis-gender, hetrosexual woman, so I don’t really have a lot to say, really, about this one. Except to stand as a witness to Cullors’ experience and pain and try to be better about my behavior and opinions and actions in the future. I do think this book, much like Between the World and Me is a vitally important one. We, as a society, need to open our eyes and recognize that experiences like Cullors’ are not only valid, but that they should NOT be happening in a first world country. That the world that she experienced is not the world I experienced, and that there is a fundamental wrong happening there.

The audio book is excellent as well. I highly recommend listening to Cullors’ experiences in her own voice; it adds a power to it that may not have existed in print. There is an interview at the end of the book, as well. I recommend sticking around for that.

The Belles

by Dhonielle Clayton
First sentence: “We all turned sixteen today, and for any normal girl that would mean raspberry and lemon macarons and tiny pastel blimps and pink champagne and card games.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 6, 2018
Content: There is some physical and emotional abuse and an attempted rape scene, but it’s not overly graphic. It will probably be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Camille is one of the Belles, the only people in the kingdom of Orléans who was born with color and who have the ability to manipulate the bodies of everyone else, and she is determined to be the favorite of the Queen. This means she’s the best, the chosen, the, well, favored.  Only she’s not chosen to be the favorite… and from there, she starts unraveling the mystery that is the Belles, and discovers the lengths that the royals will go to keep the Belles in their control.

So the tagline on the ARC was “the revolution is here” which is REALLY misleading, so I’m glad they changed that. This is a very long (almost overlong), very opulent, set up to whatever is going to happen in the next. There’s a lot of world-building here, and quite of bit of it leaves questions hanging. We discover things as Camille discovers them, which means we are left as frustrated and impatient as she is. I liked the world and I liked the characters… for me the downfall was just the descriptions. Everything was food (buttercream, chocolate, caramel, honey) and fabric, and I felt almost smothered in it all. Underneath, I could sense a criticism of plastic surgery, of the desire to change one’s appearance, but I’m not sure I could find it underneath all the clothes and makeup. But that’s just me (though I do admit that I’m curious about the sequel). There will be readers who gobble this up and love every minute. I’m just not one of them.

The Burning Sky

by Sherry Thomas
First sentence: “Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Iolanthe was enjoying a quiet life with her guardian, Master Heywood, in a small town, when her life gets turned upside down. It was simple enough: she was trying to salvage a ruined light elixer, and brought down lightning from the sky. That simple (well, maybe not) thing brought not only the crown prince, Titus, to her doorstep, but the dreaded Inquisitor, and sent Iolanthe into hiding with Titus as she learned her True Purpose: to overthrow Atlantis and kill the Bane, Atlantis’s unkillable leader.

It’s pretty by-the-numbers — of course Titus and Iolanthe are taking on the Big Bad Guys, of course they fall in love. But, I still found myself enjoying this. Perhaps because it’s kind of a reverse Harry Potter — Iolanthe and Titus come from the magical world to go to school at Eaton where they not only have to pass as non-magical but Iolanthe also has to pass as a boy. It’s an interesting world Thomas has built, with the elemental vs. subtle (learned) magic, with dragons and wyverns and wands and potions. I liked it quite a bit. Maybe not enough to continue on with the series, but still. It’s an intriguing start to a series.

Audiobook: Sing Unburied Sing

by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Kevin Harrison Jr, Chris Chalk, and Rutina Wesley
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it at Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, drug use, and violence. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It’s not often I end up reading the National Book Award winner for fiction, and to be honest, I was surprised that I did. (I started listening to it before the awards…) I picked it up because people were talking about it, because I’ve never read Jesmyn Ward before, and because I was curious.

It’s basically a slice of life portrait of Mississippi. A black woman, Leonie, takes her two children — Jojo, whose story this is, and Kayla — on a road trip from the Gulf to Parchman, where their dad is getting out of jail after serving time for drug charges. It’s a hot mess of a road trip, partially because Leonie is a drug addict, and partially because she just can’t parent, interspersed with reflections from Jojo, his grandfather (Leonie’s father), and Leonie. It’s about relationships — Leonie’s brother was killed in a race-related shooting by her boyfriend’s (and baby daddy’s) cousin — and surviving and growing up and expectations.

I enjoyed the narration; there were three different narrators, one each for Jojo (I liked him best), Leonie and a ghost who shows up halfway through, but I wonder if this was a book that would have gone down easier read than listened to. It’s not that I didn’t like it; I just felt like I missed things — connections, imagery, story — and I could have taken it slower in print than in audio.

Still, a worthwhile read.

Rise of the Jumbies

by Tracey Baptiste
First sentence: “Corinne La Mer dove through the waves.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Jumbies (which I know I read and will swear I reviewed, but I guess I didn’t)
Content: There’s some scary parts. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This is the second in a series of books set in the Caribbean, based loosely on the folklore there (Baptiste is from Trinidad). I’m not entirely sure what happened in the first book (it’s been two years since I read it!), but from what I gathered from this one, Corinne is half jumbie (her mother was a jumbie) and her aunt is out (and I can’t remember why) to capture the children on the island and keep them for her own. Corinne almost saves them all. This one picks up some months (maybe a year?) later, and children are going missing again. The island residents are suspicious: since Corinne is a jumbie, she must be involved somehow. So, Corinne knows she has to solve this problem. She goes to Mama D’Leau, the queen of the seas, and follows several mermaids over the ocean to Ghana in order to solve this problem. Except, it only solves half, and Corinne has to choose between her human and jumbie halves in order to bring peace to the island again.

I love Baptiste’s storytelling: she captures a place perfectly, and makes the island folklore come alive. (Perhaps it’s just me: I love folklore, so I’m already on board for this!) I love the way she updated the tales, but retained a classic air about them. Corinne is a plucky heroine, but she also has the help of her friends and her father, in order to accomplish everything she needs to. It’s really a delightful story.