All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely


Rashad (a black guy) and Quinn (a white guy) take turns narrating this timely and moving young adult realistic fiction story about police brutality and standing up for what’s right.

all american

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Atheneum, 2015. 320 pages.

Reading Level: Young Adult, ages 15-18

Recommended For: mature teens, ages 15-18

Rashad is the picture of respectability at his school: Junior ROTC, good student, stable family. Quinn, whose father died in combat in Afghanistan, goes to school with Rashad and is an expert at underage drinking and lives in a deteriorating neighborhood. One, on the inside, the stereotypical All American Boy. The other, on the outside, the stereotypical All American Boy. When Quinn witnesses a cop pulverizing Rashad, the subsequent turn of events have him questioning everything, including his childhood heroes. For Rashad, laid up in the hospital with broken ribs and internal bleeding, life itself takes on new meaning even as he questions his victimization and learns troubling secrets about his own father’s police background. Both boys start to muse over the “All American Boy.”

Reynolds and Kiely narrate Rashad’s and Quinn’s parts respectively, and the two voices are extremely effective. Police brutality and high school drinking are not topics for the squeamish, but the authors admirably steer clear of gratuitous, extended violence. The narrative asks a lot of questions, some of which have no easy answers. What does justice look like? Do we, like Quinn, harbor unexpected racism? Do we, like Rashad, find ourselves victims simply because of the way we look? How quick are we to judge others based purely on exterior factors and quick assumptions? If there were a theme verse for this thought-provoking book, Micah 6:8 would be a good choice:

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Only Christ can truly fulfill this verse, but we are all called to pursue justice, mercy, and humility. As Rashad, Quinn, and their friends start to hash out what this might look like in “real life” (albeit from a secular perspective), readers will realize that it is easier said than done. We never know all the details, thus justice is hard to determine. Mercy requires bravery, and humility is no fun to learn. But a strong family, loyal friends, and a willingness to step outside their comfort zones propel both boys closer to the ideal.

Of note: There is quite a bit of foul language in this book. Aside from some typical street comments about girls, the rest of the book is reasonably clean. This will not be a book for everyone, but those who are interested in discussing current events, examining their own hearts and attitudes, and asking big questions–even if it means reading a “messy” book–may find this book to be just the thing. Please read our extended discussion of this book to find out more about the issues in the book (and with the book) as well as more thoughts on how to discuss the book.

Cautions: Language (see preceding paragraph), violence (see summary)

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  • Worldview Rating: 4
  • Artistic Rating: 4

Categories: Teen, Multicultural, Discussion Starter, Life Issues, Award Winners

review edited 7/23/16

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Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.

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