It’s a remarkable coincidence that I read this book so quickly after finishing Between the World and Me. It’s an excellent fictional companion, but it also broke my heart completely. You know those books that somehow grab onto you and just haunt you after you’ve finished? For me, this was that book.
Rashad is 16, a high school student, and part of the ROTC. He’s a typical kid. And he’s black. One Friday evening, he enters a convenience store to buy a bag of chips. A white woman trips over him, and then the police officer, a white man, hits him. Again and again and again. His classmate, Quinn, a white 16-year-old and member of the varsity basketball team, witnesses the whole thing. And the police officer, Paul Galluzzo, is his hero and mentor. What does he do when he sees a black classmate beaten senseless by his idol, a man who helped raise him after his own dad died? Everyone has questions, but no one has answers. And then, someone graffitis “RASHAD IS ABSENT AGAIN TODAY” at the school. And that’s when people begin to pick sides. What ensues is a story that shows how police violence affects a community and tears it apart. It’s a story of coming-of-age and learning to think for yourself. And it’s a story that mourns the lives lost from the injustice that still perpetrates the United States of America.
This is a book that made me weep. Rashad and Quinn are well-drawn, and you understand how their attitudes and actions shape their perceptions. The dual voices provide a complex balance to a story that is becoming all-too-familiar in today’s society. And the discussions that ensue—actions, behaviors, dress, etc.—all unpack the complicated nature of institutional racism. If you never read another book in your life, please read this one. I would say that this is probably the most important young adult novel I have read to date. I intend to put this into as many hands as possible.