This book had a lot of hype, and in our current world I can understand why. It’s like a behind the scenes look at what life would be like for someone who witnessed the kind of tragedy we’ve seen time and time again: an unarmed black man being shot, and then justifying it afterwards with things like “well, he was a drug dealer so…” or “he was a thug and I was protecting myself” when really what everyone has to realize is that no one deserves to die because they are a drug dealer or a thug or speeding in their car or they have a break light out. That’s the larger point that this book makes, and the one I want to scream at the tv and at the cops every time something like this happens.
This book did more than that though. If I read it a second time I could create a syllabus that included several topics for a race relations type course. Topics include:
1. Dating a white guy as a black girl – inner conflicts.
2. What shoes say about you – the importance of footwear in the black community
3. No other choice – understanding why youth join the drug trade
4. Am I still black? – escaping the hood and existing in a white world
5. Which black am I today? – the politics of fear and survival in a majority white school
There are more too. The book reads like a dissertation on all the issues that a young black woman might have to consider every day – so much so that I felt like it was a lot to stuff in, and it often took away from the Khalil story. Angie Thomas definitely managed to write as much of the American Black Experience into this book as she could, and honestly I don’t blame her. If people are listening, make sure they are also learning.
For me, these issues are at the front of my mind. I ask questions, I formulate opinions based on fact, I am a smart woman – so a lot of these issues are ones I think about all the time. So to me, they felt like they were oddly addressed. At times the dialogue reads like a script for a school assembly. That’s my age and teacher identity picking up things too. Overall though, I never found myself lost in the story for those reasons. I wasn’t reading a book, I was reading a textbook embedded in a YA novel.
But here’s the important thing. For me it felt like a story stuffed with vocabulary and themes important to the black experience in America. It felt like a lesson. It didn’t feel like a YA fiction book. It felt like a lecture/informational session in book form. But for a class of middle or high schoolers, especially in a primarily white neighborhood or school, this book is a window into a world that they may have never experienced beyond MTV or the music they listen to.
I’ve reviewed several books on this blog that I have felt could be used as a foundation for learning. I would not recommend this book for pleasure reading, but I absolutely would recommend a class set for your 6th through 8th graders, or for an honors English or journalism class. This book yearns to be used as a textbook. It demands to be analyzed and discussed. Debated.
Reading it alone did nothing for me. These are things I know because I want to know them. I want to understand. I want to defend and support. Not everyone chooses to know, and so this book would be amazing to read with a group whose purpose is to learn and talk and grow. It’s just one of the ways that change is going to happen, and this book will certainly help lead the way.
(Sorry guys, I’m just not super wild about this book because of the writing style and that it read like a school assembly. I am deeply interested in the issues and culture it covers, but the book itself just wasn’t written well in my opinion *ducks* and outside of a classroom it’s just not great. This was a hard review to write. Content = good, writing = meh.)