Had our hearts really become so numb that we needed dead bodies in order to feel the beat of compassion in our chests? Who am I if I need to be shocked back into my best self?
Seems I could not have picked a better time to read All American Boys, a story told in duel points of view from the eyes of Rashad, a black boy beaten and accused off something he didn’t do, and Quinn, a white boy who saw it all but couldn’t figure out whether or not it was his fight.
Spoiler alert: It’s everyone’s fight.
I had a hard time getting into this book. Despite the heavy substance, the writing style left me a little ho hum. Of course it’s going to be less than prophetic, we have two teenage boys trying to understand an issue most of us can’t seem to grasp for longer than a few seconds. But I didn’t feel it needed to be so juvenile.
So for that reason, I’m going to separate my review into two parts: Substance and execution.
The substance was there. The story was there. I had a few moments where I struggled to understand how it could be dragged out for another 150 pages, but it brought you to the finish line, and it felt, more or less, like the material was all necessary.
I was expecting Rashad to turn this complete 360 and come out on top. But I would say the character who had the most to learn and the farthest to fall was Quinn. I think we all have a little bit of Quinn in us. This idea that others need to fight their own fights, even if they’re big picture, because it doesn’t concern you in the grandest of ways.
“I feel so gross,” I said. “I keep telling myself it isn’t my problem. But it is. It is my problem. I just don’t know what to do.”
“Yeah, but it isn’t only your problem. It’s everyone’s problem.”
But when it comes right down to it, it does concern us. It concerns me. I remember watching Hillary Clinton’s headquarters fall to shambles as they watched red scorch its way across the United States, and I remember feeling so gross. Because the anguish, watching it race down the faces of thousands, was too much to bare.
Standing by as people broke apart hurt. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but recognize and respect the tragedy. Sometimes there’s a lot you can do, even if it feels like a little.
I’ve never been a protester myself. But I find protesters to be impossibly brave. To stand up for what you believe in. And to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. It’s all very humbling. And to be surrounded by it gives you a sense of pride in humanity, even if, for the most part, it’s all turned to shit. This book holds you accountable for the type of person you are in a crisis that involves human kind as a whole. You are humanity, humanity is you. You’re responsible for upholding your part in society. For me, as a person, that means spreading my truth, honoring who I am, and standing up for what is important to me. But it also means learning about and trying to understand others. Who they are as people, what’s important to them, what their truth is.
You cannot act in solidarity. We all operate on the same planet. We breathe the same air. We cry the same tears. We bleed the same blood. Nobody is imperishable. Nobody is immune. Nobody is immortal. I hate this idea that the color of your skin and the person you pray to can determine the value of your life. When we will all die. We will all fall ill to time. We are fighting a losing battle when we’re fighting with each other.
So I have to give the substance a big fat 38/38, because it got me thinking. It made me feel gross inside in the best of ways–I’m not doing everything I could be doing. Not for my career. Not for my peers. Not for my state. Not for my planet.
Quinn became great. The type of person that comes full circle, and realizes his actions have been less than honorable. He stood up in the face of so much resistance to be courageous and proud. And he realized the anguish of Rashad, because he took the time to really put himself there.
I’d never thought much about it. I’d never thought to myself about how one must feel when they’re laying face down on the pavement, broken and battered, purely because of the color of their skin.
“How you feelin’, Rashad?” the pastor asked. Everybody was asking that, as if I was ever going to tell them the truth. Nobody wanted to hear the truth, even though everybody already know what it was. I felt… violated.
I can see it now. The humiliation of being accused of something you didn’t do all because you look incriminating.
“But I was talking to Tiffany, and she was telling me about the speech her parents give her younger brother all the time–the speech, she said, all boys of color get from their parents.”
It’s a terrifying world we live in where we’ve allowed ourselves to shy away from a race as a whole. To treat people as less than human, and mistake it for justice. I say we, because it is we. As a nation, we are a one. As a world, we are a one.
“Sometimes, when people get treated as less than human, the best way to help them feel better is to simply treat them as human.”
On a brighter note, I will say I fell in love with English, Rashad’s loyal and seriously swoon-worthy best friend.He was definitely, in my opinion, the hero of the story. He took Rashad’s battle and made it his own with impossible ease. He saw past “I” and immediately functioned as a “we.” He was fearless and brave.
This book is a great read for children of every color. As a person of color, you will learn that despite what human kind has told you, you are nothing less than completely human. As a person not of color, you will learn that staying silent is the greatest betrayal when you have so much privilege on your side.
As I listened, I looked up into what should have been the dark, autumnal evening sky, but instead the haze of flashing police lights, streetlamps, giant spotlights, the headlights of cars, the kaleidoscopic reflection off the cold concrete and glass of Police Plaza 1, all obscured the sky. There were no stars. The moon was hidden somewhere behind the blinding glare, and it felt like the city itself was collapsing, pressing in, taking only the shallowest of breaths in the squeeze of lost space.
It took me a little over a week to get through this book, which is about four days more than my normal YA reading time. The writing just lacked that punch. It fumbled through a series of long-winded monologues, and it left me bored and gripping for some good dialogue.
I lost track of characters. There were simply too many of them and not enough indicators to remind us who was who. Everybody had a seriously odd name, and I couldn’t remember who looked what way, and what side they were on. In a book where an alliance is formed, whites with whites and blacks with blacks, you needed that obviousness to really allow the substance to impact you. I was constantly roving back over the book, trying to remember when that person became a part of the story and why.
I liked being inside each of the characters’ heads, because that’s really where the majority of this book plays out. It was a definite person vs. self hero’s journey. However, because they’re teenage boys, or at least supposed to be, a lot of their thoughts became muddled and under explained, and I ended up just assuming I wouldn’t need to remember that specific paragraph and moved on.
But, I never felt like I was anything else BUT a teenage boy while reading, which is important. The authors put themselves in their characters’ shoes so efficiently, that I never once questioned if I was really reading about teenage boys. It’s a testament to the story as a whole. I felt they glazed over everything enough and they never lingered on anything too long. I felt each pov was completely realistic. And I felt like each character’s arc was important.
And, above all else, I learned. More about myself than anything else.