All American Boys
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All American Boys is a young-adult novel published in 2015. This modern-day narrative tells the story of an incident of police brutality through the alternating voices of two high school students: Rashad, whose chapters are written by author Jason Reynolds, and Quinn, whose chapters are written by author Brendan Kiely. While Rashad and Quinn never actually meet in the novel, their lives intersect in a powerful way after a violent act of racism rocks their hometown of Springfield, Illinois.
The novel begins on Friday afternoon. Rashad Butler, an African-American highschool junior, changes out of his Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) attire. He’s ready to ditch the “stiff-ass uniform” (6) his father imposes on him and let loose for the night. Rashad and his friends, English Jones, Shannon Pushcart, and Carlos Greene, plan to attend their classmate Jill’s party, but everything changes when Rashad experiences police brutality at Jerry’s Corner Mart.
In Jerry’s, Rashad is picking out chips when he sets his duffel bag down to retrieve his cell phone. A female customer backs up and trips over Rashad, causing him to drop the chips. The store owner sees the open duffel and thinks Rashad is trying to steal the chips, while the police officer guarding the store thinks Rashad is attacking the woman. Without giving Rashad a chance to explain, the officer pulls him outside, slams him to the ground, and begins to beat him. Rashad instinctively moves to avoid the pain, but the officer says that he’s resisting and beats him harder. A crowd gathers as Rashad, thinking “please don’t kill me” (23), hears an ambulance arrive.
Quinn Collins, a Caucasian highschool senior and basketball player, is also planning to attend Jill’s party. Quinn and two of his buddies, Guzzo and Dwyer, head to Jerry’s. Their custom is to pay one of the loiterers outside the store to buy beer for them. While Guzzo and Dwyer are waiting around the corner, Quinn witnesses Rashad being beaten. Quinn only vaguely recognizes Rashad as someone who goes to Springfield Central High School, yet he distinctly recognizes the policeman as Paul Galluzzo, Guzzo’s older brother. As more police arrive, Quinn and his friends hurry away before they can be spotted.
It’s Saturday morning, and Rashad is in the hospital with a broken nose and fractured ribs. His parents, Jessica and David, are there with him. His mother is worried and sympathetic, but his father insists that Rashad must have done something to bring on the attack. Randolph, nicknamed “Spoony,” rails against the injustice done to his little brother and is determined not to let the authorities “sweep this under the rug” (59). Meanwhile, Rashad learns that he’s suffering from internal bleeding and must stay in the hospital for a few days.
On Sunday morning, Spoony visits to show Rashad that he’s the main feature on the TV news. Spoony reveals that he and his girlfriend, Berry, found a smartphone video of the beating online and sent it to the news station, along with Rashad’s name and a picture of him in his JROTC uniform. As the news continues, Rashad also learns the name of the officer who beat him: Paul Galluzzo.
On Sunday afternoon, Quinn, his mother, and his younger brother, Will, head to the Galluzzos’ barbecue where Paul is manning the grill as if nothing is wrong. Quinn has always viewed Paul as an older brother because Paul stepped in to teach him basketball and offered support after Quinn’s father died in Afghanistan. After witnessing the extreme act of violence, Quinn isn’t sure what to think of Paul anymore. Quinn then converses with his crush, Jill, who is also Guzzo’s cousin. He discovers that they both are questioning Paul’s actions, while the others support him without hesitation.
On Monday, Quinn returns to school to discover that Rashad’s beating is clearly on everyone’s minds. During basketball practice, the coach urges the players to leave their issues—indirectly referring to Rashad—off the court and to play as one team. As the practice continues, Quinn begins to suspect that may not be possible. He now recognizes racism as a real problem that permeates every aspect of American life, and, moreover, that it’s a problem he has been unintentionally contributing to.
In the hospital, Rashad, who is passionate about art, starts drawing the scene of the beating, trying to capture the event and his emotions on paper. English, Shannon, and Carlos visit him after school and talk about what happened. Before the boys leave, Carlos insists he’s going to “do something” (160) about the situation.
On Tuesday, Quinn sees a huge graffiti tag across the front sidewalk of the school that reads:“RASHAD IS ABSENT AGAIN TODAY.” This is the “something” Carlos, a graffiti artist, vowed to do for Rashad. Quinn is on edge about the situation, and after a tense conversation with English during basketball practice, Quinn decides that he can’t just ignore the deeper questions about racism the situation has unearthed.
That evening, Spoony visits Rashad and shows him pictures of Carlos’s graffiti, as well as the many copycat tags across the city. His friends arrive and discuss the protest they’re planning for Friday afternoon, and while Rashad is nervous about the idea, he realizes the situation has become “bigger than [him]” (203).
The next morning, Rashad’s father visits and shares a story that shocks Rashad. When he was a police officer, Rashad’s dad shot an unarmed black kid whom he believed was reaching for a weapon. He paralyzed the young man, who turned out to be innocent. While David wants his son to understand that most officers are good people trying to do their best in difficult situations, Rashad now sees his father as flawed and fallible.
On Thursday, Quinn, who has heard about the protest along with the rest of the school, wears a homemade shirt that boasts “I’M MARCHING” on the front and “ARE YOU?” on the back. Guzzo clearly disapproves of Quinn’s shirt, and he believes Quinn has abandoned Paul, even after all Paul has done for him. Guzzo blindsides Quinn after basketball practice, punching Quinn twice and telling him never to speak to him again. Quinn returns home more determined than ever to attend the protest.
On Thursday morning, Rashad’s internal bleeding has stopped, and he is discharged from the hospital. He leaves his drawing of the beating behind as a gift for the young nurse he has connected with. Once home, Rashad finally has access to the internet and sees he’s being discussed all over social media with the hashtag #RashadIsAbsentAgainToday. Rashad, along with his friends and brother, spend their evening preparing for the following day’s protest march.
On Friday morning, Quinn calls the police to make a statement as a witness of Rashad’s beating, affirming that he will take responsibility for what he saw. When he sees a police tank at the high school, Quinn becomes even more nervous about the protest, but he maintains his resolve and continues to attend with Jill. The protest, first conveyed through Quinn’s eyes and then through Rashad’s, amasses a huge crowd that walks a route from Jerry’s Corner Mart to the Police Plaza. Rashad, his mom, Spoony, Berry, and his friends march together, and they unexpectedly find Rashad’s father waiting for them at the Police Plaza. Everyone lies down on the ground in a “die-in,” and Berry reads the names of unarmed black men and women killed by police through a megaphone.
The novel ends with a brief chapter alternating between Rashad’s and Quinn’s points of view, with the two characters locking eyes as they lie on the ground for the die-in. The narration zooms out to a third-person view of the protest, ending with the suggestion that by forging connections such as Rashad and Quinn’s unspoken one here, there is hope for positive change and “a new tomorrow,” which is just “an arm’s length” away (313).