I have this ‘first wave’ theory of literature. The author who does something first is going to receive great acclaim for it, regardless of whether the work merits it. Case in point: The Kite Runner. We’d all been hearing the word ‘Afghanistan,’ and were desperate for some understanding of the place. And along came this movie-of-the-week excuse for a book, and people fell all over themselves to praise it. Read it again; it’s not a good book.
And so it does with All American Boys. As far as I know, it’s the first young adult novel to address the issues of police brutality against black men, and the co-authors – Jason Reynolds (black) and Brendan Kiely (white) – are nothing, if not earnest.
In fact, they are so earnest at the beginning that the book reads like it has footnotes to explain the behavior of Rashad, the African-American teen who is the victim of police brutality. And from there, the characters and actions are of the paint-by-numbers sort. There’s not a single surprise, not a single nuance. And though some will claim that both of the boys had a difficult choice to make, far more weight is given to the choice that Quinn, the main white teen protagonist, has to make. Oh, and guess what? Both boys are on the basketball team.
There’s the nurse with the heart of gold. There’s the rigid father who has a story to tell. There’s the wise old black woman who volunteers at the hospital gift shop. No one is a character. Everyone is a mouthpiece.