By Heather A.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?
But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
**This review contains some spoilers**
Fun fact, the image on the cover of the man with his hands up comes from a picture taken during one of the Ferguson protests. So that’s where this book comes from: real life.
The two alternating perspectives of the protagonists was interesting because it allowed readers to see in Black and White, so to speak, one POV is of Rashad, who this directly affected by the events that unfold, and Quinn, who witnessed the crime, but by all accounts, is on the outside. He looked up to the officer as an older brother and mentor. Quinn is seen as the typical “All-American Boy” because his father was in the military and died during active duty. After his father died, he had the officer as a mentor (older brother to Quinn’s friend). To see that vision torn down by the violence he committed was unfortunate. Quinn’s journey is that of realizing his privilege and unraveling the “hero” that he used to see in the officer.
But the real story, the one readers should focus on, is Rashad. He was beaten by a police officer unjustly. He was put in the hospital for a week. His friends and family started a hashtag in his honor, which sparked a protest and movement throughout the country. #RashadIsAbsentAgainToday And Rashad is just a teenager and has teenage thoughts. He wants to see his friends, he likes art, he wants to do right by his parents. Normal pressures and expectations that any high schooler goes through. But the media labeled him as a thug and a shoplifter, despite not being any of those things. You could even say that Rashad is also an “All-American Boy.”
You see Rashad’s frustration, his process of dealing with it, from blaming himself to getting angry at the officer and others. But my favorite moment is when he’s released from the hospital, his family and friends, and others he doesn’t know, are having a die-in at the police station and they start to do a roll-call. I was in tears. Rashad was lucky enough to live. The authors used real examples of people who did not, people who are not characters and had lives before they were killed by police officers.
A point of criticism: From a feminist perspective, this book was weak. The girls that either boy were interested in did nothing more than echo what the guys were thinking (and Rashad didn’t even speak to his crush at all). Or the scene with the women in the kitchen defending the officer. No one had different thoughts from the others, except for Quinn’s girl, who, like I said, was there to echo his thoughts. I was disappointed with how women were portrayed.
Second point of criticism: Rashad’s dad was a former police officer and he shot a black kid thinking that he was going to pull a weapon, but it was just an inhaler. What point did that serve? That police training says to shoot first and ask questions later? That a black police officer is profiling black youths? That if you wear your pants a certain way you’ll get shot? Rashad’s dad didn’t need to be a part of the narrative for it to be striking and poignant.
I found this book to be so important to the discussion of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the events that are unfolding every day. I just want to give this book to anyone who argues for All Lives Matter—“Don’t you see what is happening? Can you empathize with the movement?” If this book helps people understand, to question systemic racism, it’s doing it’s job.
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