All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a fictional novel that tells the story of an all too common occurrence: police brutality. The beauty of the book is that it is told from multiple perspectives to gain a greater understanding of the violence and racism that exists in our country and what is at the root of it. Reynolds and Kiely wrote a book focused on a dark and disturbing reality but managed to weave in an unlikely theme: hope.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely was written in 2015. The authors met on a press tour in the wake of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial. The shock that Trayvon’s murderer was acquitted prompted them to have conversations about prejudice, police brutality, and systemic racism that are all too prevalent and are at the heart of many tragedies and miscarriages of justice. Through these conversations, the idea to write All American Boys was born. It is written from the perspectives of two high school students, Rashad, who is African American, and Quinn, who is white. Their lives are upended by an incident of police brutality, Rashad as the victim and Quinn as the bystander who witnesses it.
Both Rashad and Quinn were on their way to a party one Friday night. Rashad stopped to get chips at Jerry’s store. While Rashad was choosing his chips a woman accidentally tripped and fell near him. The ruckus caused the store owner and Officer Paul Galluzzo to jump to conclusions and accuse Rashad of stealing and harming the woman. While Rashad tried to explain, Paul grabbed, handcuffed, and brutally beat him.
Quinn witnessed the event but felt too afraid to step in. He realized that the officer was his friend, Paul Galluzzo, a man who had been a mentor to him ever since Quinn’s father died serving in Afghanistan. Quinn knew that the beating was wrong but failed to blame the person who had meant so much to him growing up.
While Rashad recovered in the hospital for days from a broken nose, broken ribs, and internal bleeding, Quinn attended school where he fought his own internal struggle. The beating was recorded on a cell phone and the video was all over the news. The community was divided on whom to support. Quinn’s best friend Guzzo, Paul’s brother, insisted on loyalty. Rashad’s friends English and Shannon came to his defense. This divided the basketball team while their coach insisted that they “leave the outside world at the door.” Rashad’s friend Carlos decided to take action and graffitied “Rashad is Absent Again Today” on school grounds. The tag served as a rallying cry for the community to lend their support to Rashad and reject police brutality and racism.
Quinn confided to his friend Jill, Guzzo and Paul’s cousin, that he witnessed the act. Jill and Quinn discussed how the violence was rooted in racism. Jill was determined to help support Rashad and all victims of police brutality. Meanwhile, Rashad’s brother Spooney and his girlfriend Berry set out to organize a march in protest. Rashad was conflicted about joining the march as he wished his trauma and pain to be at an end rather than exacerbated by more attention. Rashad changed his mind, however, through conversations with the hospital gift shop clerk, Mrs. Fitzgerald. She described similar marches for justice during the civil rights movement, such as the one at Selma. She explained that she always regretted not attending the marches due to fear. Rashad left the conversation determined not to let fear control his actions.
Quinn finally realized that he must stand up to Paul and all perpetrators of injustice. He recalled that his father never let fear keep him from fighting for what he believed in. Before the march, Quinn made a t-shirt that said “I’m marching, are you?” to show his support. When Guzzo saw the shirt he was enraged and believed Quinn to be disloyal to his family. The two best friends fought, effectively ending their friendship, but Quinn refused to back down.
At the march, the protestors walked to the police station and held a “die in” by lying down on the ground in protest. Spooney and Berry read the names of Black men and women who had been killed by police. The protestors repeated the refrain “Absent again today!” after each name. Quinn locked eyes with Rashad and hoped Rashad understood that he was finally showing up. Rashad heard the names and felt lucky to be "present", while vowing to continue the fight for all who were "absent."