Cover of All American Boys, with a Black boy holding his hands up and facing the sirens of a cop car

About the Book

Title: All American Boys
Published: 2015
Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Cover Story: Arresting
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Talky Talk: He Said, He Said
Bonus Factors: Exploration of Racism, Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Relationship Status: Vital

Cover Story: Arresting

With this artwork, there’s no chance in hell you can unsuspectingly pick this book up. The frankness of the cover matches the honesty of the pages inside, though there is some (purposeful, I assume) vagueness surrounding the color of the boy’s skin.

The Deal:

It’s Friday afternoon, and like most of their fellow students at Springfield Central High School, Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins are ready to party. Rashad, who is black, can’t wait to get out of his JROTC uniform, while Quinn, who is white, is hoping to drink away the stress of the upcoming basketball season. Unfortunately, neither of them will enjoy the evening they pictured, because just a few hours later, Quinn watches, horrified, as Rashad is brutally beaten by police officer Paul Galluzzo for a crime he didn’t commit.

In the days that follow, both teens wrestle with what occurred that night. Rashad, confined to a hospital bed, initially just wants to forget that this nightmare ever happened, while Quinn hopes that Galluzzo, who has been like a father to him, was somehow in the right. As the neighborhood reels from the incident and people begin taking sides, these two similar-yet-oh-so-different boys must come to terms with the racism in their community and their role in fighting it. 

BFF Charm: Big Sister

BFF Charm Big Sister with Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It All's face

It would embarrass him to hear me say this, but Rashad is endearingly sweet—a dutiful son and an artist with a thoughtful, creative soul hidden under a bit of swagger. Quinn is also secretly a softie, a jock who yearns to be a better person for his younger brother and widowed mother. While they’re still very much teenage dudes, with knee-jerk reactions and sex on the brain, they’re also smart and complicated and incredibly earnest in grappling with their feelings. Throughout the book I just wanted to hug them SO HARD in a way that they would probably only accept from a sister, thus my charm of choice.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Understandably, there’s not a lot of room for romance in this book, particularly for poor Rashad, stuck in the hospital and covered in bandages. Quinn does draw closer to his friend Jill, a total badass who deserves to star in her own novel. I mean, listen to this girl talk about going to a protest:

“Look, if there are people who are scared of the police every day of their lives,” Jill said, determined, “I’m going to live in fear of them for at least one day to say that I don’t think that’s right.”

So yeah, she’s awesome (and probably too good for Quinn—but he knows it so it’s okay).

Talky Talk: He Said, He Said

Each chapter alternates between Rashad’s perspective (written by Jason Reynolds) and Quinn’s POV (written by Brendan Kiely), and their two voices are distinct, authentic and wonderfully engaging. Though the premise of the book might sound like the stuff of after school specials, Reynolds and Kiely have crafted a story that reads as timely and topical while feeling deeply personal. Part of that connection stems from the boys being typical boys—shooting the shizz with their friends, fantasizing about girls, complaining about the pressures of family and school. There’s also a warmth in the way that both authors write, particularly Reynolds, whose wry wit surfaces in passages like this:

My mother, trying to cut the tension, began digging in her church bag, which was way bigger than her normal bag. The church bag had to be big enough to fit her Sunday service survival kit. Her Bible, some candy, and all the sins of our family.

All American Boys is powerful precisely because you get to know people that could very easily be faces on the news, and consequently you see—really see—them as human.

Bonus Factor: Exploration of Racism

Screenshot from Dear White People, with a Black student surrounded by white students in a classroom

I wish I could come up with a better label for this bonus factor, a way to sum up the eye-opening complexity of this story. It’s not simply about police brutality and racial profiling. It’s about recognizing and understanding privilege; it’s about being willing to speak up and walk away from what’s comfortable in order to do what’s right. Regardless of whether you connect more with Rashad or Quinn, this book will leave you asking yourself the same questions the protagonists do: 

“It’s about how the world looks at you and when they do, who do you want them to see? What kind of person do you want to be? Who do you think you are?” 

Bonus Factor: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

The tale of Jason and Brendan’s friendship is arguably as compelling as the book they wrote together. Last year at the North Texas Teen Book Festival, I was lucky enough to hear them speak about creating this novel and their subsequent tour across the country visiting schools, some of which were predominantly black and some of which were mostly white. (They mentioned the possibility of writing a book about the tour itself, and I pray that wasn’t a joke because GIMME.) Jason and Brendan’s passion for connecting with teenagers and fostering dialogue about race is inspiring, and it’s clear that this tour magnified the impact of their novel–these are authors making a real difference through their words and their actions. And the icing on the cake? They’re charming AF. 

Relationship Status: Vital

I knew I was getting into something serious when I met this book, but I had no idea that our time together would be so meaningful. Unlike the headlines that inspired it, All American Boys didn’t depress me–quite the opposite, actually. It widened my perspective, invigorated my spirit and challenged my heart to fight (and love) more fiercely. Without a doubt, the world would be a better place if everyone had this book in their lives… so let’s make it happen.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor cocktails in exchange for this review.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.