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Revisiting Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s ‘All American Boys’

Nalini Jones reviews Jason Reynolds’s latest book, “Look Both Ways,” in this week’s issue. In 2015, Kekla Magoon wrote for the Book Review about “All American Boys,” a Y.A. novel that Reynolds wrote with Brendan Kiely about a black teenager and a white teenager grappling with an instance of police brutality.

Reynolds writes from Rashad’s point of view. Rashad is stuck in a hospital bed, trying to make sense of what happened. Reynolds writes Rashad’s voice with an immediacy that demands empathy: “My brain exploded into a million thoughts and only one thought at the same time — please don’t kill me.”

Brendan Kiely’s Quinn witnesses Officer Galluzzo beating Rashad. Quinn’s voice takes a more distant tone. He’s an observer, not an experiencer, of the events, but he has a connection to them: Quinn’s best friend is Galluzzo’s younger brother. Kiely raises the question: Is it necessary for a white person to witness a violent act of racial bias in order to believe it is wrong, or even that it has happened at all?

It is perhaps too easy to call this worthy book timely and thought-provoking. Let us reach beyond simple praise and treat it instead as a book to be grappled with, challenged by and discussed. “All American Boys” represents one voice — even better, two voices — in a national conversation that must continue beyond its pages. Rashad and Quinn tell their stories but never meet. In a brief final chapter set at a community protest, we hear their voices side by side, as dialogue, reminding us that perhaps, in these fraught days, that is what has been missing all along.

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