49 pages 1 hour read

Jason Reynolds

The Boy in the Black Suit

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Jason Reynolds’s 2015 young adult realistic contemporary novel, The Boy in the Black Suit, follows main character, Matt Miller, through several months of his senior year after the death of his mother. His grieving process is complicated by his father’s lengthy hospitalization after an accident, which leaves Matt to cope with his sadness alone. Matt discovers unexpected comfort, however, in his new job helping neighbor and funeral home director Mr. Ray. Matt meets Love, who lost her own mother when she was young, at Love’s grandmother’s funeral; seeing how Love handles her grief with strength and joy, Matt looks to ease his loneliness with Love’s company. A 2016 Coretta Scott King Honor book, the novel appeared on ALA/YALSA’s 2016 Top Ten Fiction for Young Adults list. This guide follows the 2015 Atheneum edition from Simon and Schuster.

Plot Summary

Matt Miller starts his senior year of high school three weeks late. He missed school to spend his mother’s last days with her, then attend her funeral. She died of breast cancer. Now back in school, Matt is surprised that only his best friend, Chris, interacts naturally with him; other friends avoid him because they do not know what to say regarding his loss. Matt leaves school mid-day on a work-study program. He goes to the local fast-food establishment, the Cluck Bucket, and asks the attractive cashier for a job application. Mr. Ray, the local funeral home director in their Brooklyn neighborhood, comes in to buy chicken for a post-funeral get-together. When Mr. Ray learns Matt is looking for work, he offers him a job helping with funerals. Matt accepts and helps Mr. Ray set up the funeral’s repast (the meal after the service). Matt feels called to attend the funeral service, even though he did not know the person who died. Seeing other mourners’ emotional reactions—especially those of the person closest to the deceased—seems to comfort him.

Matt’s father turns to alcoholism in his grief. After drinking too much with Mr. Ray’s younger brother, Cork, Matt’s father stumbles into traffic where a taxi hits him, necessitating surgery and a months-long stay in the hospital’s physical rehabilitation unit. The accident leaves Matt home alone. Soon after his father’s accident, Mr. Ray shares with Matt that he, Mr. Ray, lost his early chance at a successful basketball career when an opposing player, Martin Gandrey, injured Mr. Ray’s knee. Mr. Ray also lost his young wife Ella in an accident. Matt wonders how Mr. Ray was able to cope with his grief and is amazed that Mr. Ray also beat cancer later in life twice. Each day Matt dresses in his black suit from his mother’s funeral, attends school, and goes to work for Mr. Ray. He continues attending funerals, looking forward to seeing the grief in others, which makes him feel like he is not so alone in his.

At the funeral of Gwendolyn Brown, Matt waits for an “explosion” of grief from her granddaughter, a girl Matt’s age whom he recognizes as the attractive cashier at the Cluck Bucket. The girl speaks at the funeral with strength and poise, and Matt sees no emotional breakdown. Matt speaks to the girl, Love, afterwards. When Love was seven, she lost her mother; now that she lost her grandmother, Love lives alone. Matt accompanies Love home with leftover food from the repast.

Later, Love texts Matt, asking him if he would like to spend Thanksgiving with her. Mr. Ray convinces Matt to bring a food item to contribute; Matt decides to make chocolate chip cookies using the recipe booklet his mother wrote for him for the first time since she died. On Thanksgiving, Love takes Matt to the homeless shelter where she volunteers. Matt helps to serve the meal and meets Candy Man, a homeless former professional basketball player. Matt and Love walk back to Love’s apartment. Love grows upset when Matt asks how the homeless shelter celebrates Valentine’s Day. Confused by her reaction, Matt goes home. Later, Mr. Ray visits, and Matt realizes that Candy Man is Martin Gandrey, the player responsible Mr. Ray’s knee accident that ended his chance at a basketball career.

The next day, Love tells Matt the reason she got upset: a disturbed man shot and killed her mother on the night of Valentine’s Day when Love was seven. Matt realizes that he and best friend Chris were witnesses to the shooting. Love takes Matt to the Botanic Garden, a place her grandmother often took her to see beauty in life after the death of her mother. Matt is impressed with the Sempervivum, a plant capable of surviving harsh conditions. At the next funeral he works, Matt misses the explosion of grief in the closest mourner because Love texts him to meet her outside; she presents him with a young Sempervivum to care for. Matt realizes that though he will always miss his mother, thinking about her will grow less painful. Appreciating life and the people close to him will help him move forward.

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