Monster

by Walter Dean Myers
First sentence: “The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some frank talk about what goes on in prison, the use of the n-word as well as f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Steve Harman is a 16-year-old black kid in Harlem who is in jail waiting trial for murder because of a drugstore robbery gone bad. He’s not the only one on trial; his “acquaintance” is also on trial for the same murder (I found myself wondering about the legality of this). Because Steve is an aspiring filmmaker, the book is written as a screenplay, covering the trial with flashbacks to Steve’s life as well as the night of the incident, interspersed with handwritten journal notes from Steve.

The most fascinating thing about the book, for me, wasn’t the format (which took a bit of getting used to). It was the way the story unfolded. We were basically the 13th juror, albeit with a bit more information, listening in on the trial from the opening arguments to the testimony and cross-examinations through the closing arguments. I don’t feel like Myers biased the reader in one direction or another (or maybe he did, wanting us to be more sympathetic to Steve), but instead allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions from the evidence presented.

On top of that, it’s a scathing look at the justice system. Sure, people are just doing their jobs, but when a 16-year-old kid ends up in an adult prison just because of who he knows, or what lawyer he can or can’t afford, when the guards don’t do much to protect the prisoners from each other… no wonder we need prison reform in this country!

It really was a fascinating and enlightening read, and I’m glad I did.

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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, even though Rashad isn’t comfortable with being the center of attention.

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.

The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas
First sentence: “I shouldn’t have come to this party.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, some almost sex, and some drinking. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I came to this one in a round-about way. I have a teen review group, and one of them read this (and loved it), and so I didn’t feel a need to read it. Too many other things on the pile. Then, it became a big thing (and rightly so), being talked about all over the internets. and so we picked it to be a part of our summer teen book group. And that is really what pushed me to read it. (If all else fails: pick it for a book group. I’ll read it then!)

As one of my co-workers said, I’m reading this as a privileged white woman, and it makes one VERY aware of that privilege. At first, I thought I was not hip enough for Starr and her world, but after a couple of chapters, I found myself immersed in the world Starr inhabits. Thomas very eloquently shows (not tells!) the reader what it’s like to live in the inner city, the conflict- both with the “system” and with each other – that they face every day.

The basic plot is this: Starr is at a party, when a shooting happens. As everyone is fleeing, she ends up with an old friend, Khalil, and they end up getting pulled over by a white cop. And, because this unfortunately happens too often, the cop shoots Khalil. And from there, the story follows Starr as she deals with the aftermath of that. From dealing with PTSD after the experience (it’s her second friend who has been shot and killed), to dealing with being a witness at the grand jury (and all the implications that brings), to dealing with the balance between her home life and her school life — she goes to a prep school in the suburbs — and her friends there. Thomas treats everything complexly and is incredibly forthright and honest about absolutely everything. It’s an excellent portrait of the life of a black teenager and an important book, especially for a white person to read.