All American Boys Summary

Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds

All American Boys

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All American Boys Summary

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Brendan Kiely, the author of The Last True Love Story and The Gospel of Winter, is a two time winner of the American Library Association award for Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jason Reynolds is a winner of an NAACP Image Award, as well as the recipient of Coretta Scott King honors. Reynolds is the author of When I Was the Greatest, The Boy in the Black Suit, As Brave As You, and Jump Anyway. In 2015 Kiely and Reynolds released their coauthored novel, All American Boys, which received, among other honors, the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature and was a New York Times bestseller. The authors present the narrative from the alternating points of view of Rashad and Quinn.

The novel revolves around two teenagers, Rashad and Quinn. Rashad is black and is mistaken for a shoplifter by a police officer; while Quinn is a white member of the varsity basketball team at the school both he and Rashad attend. The story begins with Rashad looking for a bag of chips to purchase at a neighborhood bodega. An overzealous police officer, Paul Galluzzo, believes Rashad to be up to no good. When Rashad attempts to explain that he has not stolen anything, the officer interprets his behavior as resisting arrest. Additionally, when Rashad pulls away from the punches thrown at him by Officer Galluzzo, his attempt to protect himself is interpreted as continued resistance and as a defiance of the officer’s order to remain still.

Witnessing the incident is Quinn Collins, who has been in the care of Paul Galluzzo since Quinn’s father died in Afghanistan. In addition, the event was captured by a video camera. News of Rashad’s beating at the hands of the officer spreads quickly, and Galluzzo is faced with accusations of racial prejudice and police brutality. Quinn is left conflicted, unable to reconcile his knowledge of the man who raised him and saved him from an uncertain future, with the man who inflicted such unwarranted pain upon one of his classmates. Following the incident, Rashad is frequently absent from school. Members of the basketball team, half of whom are close friends of Rashad’s, take sides on the situation. This divide extends throughout the school and ultimately, through the town. As tensions increase, both Rashad and Quinn find themselves in unfamiliar territory and faced with difficult decisions.

One morning, students arrive to find the sidewalk in front of Springfield Central High School covered with graffiti saying, “Rashad is absent again today.” It can be seen as both a literal and symbolic call to action. Rashad, sixteen years of age and a member of the school’s R.O.T.C. squad, is still in the hospital as a result of what took place at the bodega. Students are outraged by the injustices suffered by one of their own and protest is in the air. The novel was praised for its attempt to illustrate real world situations by showing different perspectives. While his classmates are moved to action, Rashad attempts to make sense of what has transpired from the confines of his hospital bed. He learns that his father is not completely convinced of his innocence, while his brother is steadfast in his desire to protest. Rashad feels trapped and, in a way, separate from the image of himself that continually appears on national news broadcasts.

Meanwhile, Quinn who saw the beating in person, is presented by Kiely in a somewhat detached fashion that contrasts with Reynolds’ depiction of Rashad. Quinn observed what occurred, but was not a participant in the incident. Adding to Quinn’s difficulty in processing the situation is the fact that his best friend is Officer Galluzzo’s younger brother. An underlying question dealt with by the coauthors is whether a white person must witness racial prejudice first hand in order to fully comprehend and accept that is actually took place and is inherently wrong. For Quinn, this means he must grapple with where to place his loyalties. As significant as this becomes to Quinn, it is difficult to place his dilemma on the same level as the physical and emotional trauma suffered by Rashad. In time, Quinn realizes that, by not coming forward and telling the truth about what he observed, he is in fact contributing to the problem. Quinn starts to reckon with his racial privilege, while Rashad is show to be comparatively powerless. As the story reaches its conclusion, the voices of Quinn and Rashad are juxtaposed at a protest in the community, suggesting that the intersection of two different worlds was necessary to reach some sort of truth.

Publishers Weekly said of All American Boys, “The scenario that Reynolds and Kiely depict has become a recurrent feature of news reports, and a book that lets readers think it through outside of the roiling emotions of a real-life event is both welcome and necessary.”