About two weeks ago (at the time this is written), I read an article about police officers trying to ban certain books from a summer reading list. Those books are Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
Both books involve a plot centering on police brutality and its victims. I read The Hate U Give for a Y.A. Lit course I took this past spring, and absolutely loved it. It’s been a constant recommendation whenever people ask me for a good book. I just think everyone should read it. All American Boys has been sitting on my bookshelf since its release. After reading the article, my initial intrigue for this book sparked once more. I suddenly have a new book to constantly recommend.
Rashad, The Victim Of Police Brutality
All American Boys immediately begins with Rashad, an African American male teen. He begins by talking about the mandatory Jr. ROTC uniform on Fridays and how it is a form of discipline that his father wants him to practice. The first chapter of the book takes place on a Friday, a popular day for parties, and Rashad is very excited to mingle with his crush. On his way over to his friend’s house for a ride to the party, he stops by the liquor store. As he bent down to search his bag for money, a lady bumps into him and almost trips.
Before he gets a chance to properly apologize, the store employee and a cop that happened to be in the liquor store immediately assumes he is trying to rob the store and causing harm to the lady. The cop then attacks him without question. In Rashad’s next chapter, he wakes up in the hospital with broken ribs and internal bleeding. The police may press charges on him, although his story had not been taken into account yet. Readings this all in the very first chapter may understandably leave readers frustrated, even angered.
Quinn, Witness, & Officer’s Friend
The next chapter of All American Boys introduces another point of view from Quinn, a white male teen attending the same school as Rashad and happens to be going to the same party. Like Rashad, Quinn and his friends stop by the liquor store to buy something to bring to the party. He is the only one who enters the store and witnesses Paul, the cop, his best friend’s brother and a sort of father figure to him growing up, brutally beating someone up. After getting a good glimpse, Quinn immediately leaves the store and lets his friends know what he saw.
Characters begin choosing sides and Quinn is initially confused. Should he take Rashad’s side, the classmate who was attacked for no reason? Or should he take Paul’s side, the big brother he never had? How will this all affect his relationship with his best friend? Quinn’s confusion is then also understandable. It’s almost like he is choosing between a stranger and his family, or choosing between social justice and family.
The Victim Versus The Family
In no way does this book sugarcoat what it is like to a victim of police brutality. It creates a vivid picture from the perspective of the victim and the character with a connection to the cop. Speaking of vivid images, the plot twist [highlight color=#FF0000 ](***SPOILER ALERT***)[/highlight] in this story was something I was not able to foresee. Perhaps because it is quite uncommon for a family member of the victim to have done something of the same act inflicted upon them.
In this case, Rashad’s father tells him of the time he incorrectly profiled a teenager when he was a cop. The teen was reaching for an inhaler after another kid tried to rob him. Yet he ended up paralyzed because Rashad’s father thought he was reaching for a weapon. For me, this is a major part in All American Boys I could not forget and it helped me to better understand Quinn’s situation. How would you react if you found out your family member, someone you looked up to, was once the kind of cop they always warned you of?
Should All American Boys Be Banned?
The reason for challenging the list is due to the presumption that students will garner an anti-police mentality after readings them. But how can students, especially incoming freshmen to whom the list is for, think for themselves if they aren’t exposed to such things?
I applaud the teacher who assigned these two books to their students. They bring awareness about an important matter in our society regarding younger people who may be affected by it now and in the future.
Banning these books will is censorship of thought, and it proves how powerful the messages of these books can be. I highly doubt the South Carolina police officers challenging this list have even read the books. Both novels clearly state that there are bad cops and there are good cops. Reynolds and Kiely do not, in any way, make all police officers villains. They just want readers to understand that there are some awful cops in the world.
The Unsung Superheroes
Superheroes dedicate their lives fighting what harms their universe in order to protect the public, they are the ones who fight the villains. At one point, Quinn recalls the time Paul spoke about wanting to be a hero like Quinn’s dad was.
He wanted to be the kind of hero who makes a good impact on society. Though in hindsight, Quinn has a different view of that conversation as he says, “Becoming a cop would not make him a hero – but what kind of cop he became could have.” There are other heroes in this story, perhaps these kinds of heroes exist more than we care to acknowledge.
The teachers in this book are unsung superheroes, those protesters, Rashad’s best friends, his brother, Quinn and his friend Jill, they marched to fight against the harm in their community and to me, these kinds of characters are unsung superheroes.
They keep making a difference even though they may go unnoticed. The teacher in the novel who made her students read “Battle Royal” from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a superhero, just like the teacher who put this book in a summer reading list is a superhero.
The Power Of All American Boys
During the march at the end, a sign read, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppression.” Should you choose a side or would you rather remain safe because it doesn’t affect you? Throughout the story, both characters have trouble speaking up and expressing where they stand in the situation.
These books do not intend to make the police look bad. They exist to encourage young adults to use their voices, especially when something morally wrong occurs in their society. All American Boys exists to let young adults know their voice is important, it can be impactful, and it can make a great difference.