Audiobook Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan KielygoodreadsbadgeA 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 Galluzzo, 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?

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.

DISCLAIMER: This is a review of the audiobook version, narrated by Guy Lockard and Kieth Nobbs. As such, I can’t speak to whether or not this book was “well-written.” This review will also get a little ranty/ravy, and I’m not sorry.


If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be this one: Powerful

My second one word would be: Necessary (if you cared to know)

Seriously, any book that starts off with me laughing my ass off only to subsequently rip my heart from my chest and make me watch as it tears that same heart to shreds is definitely something worth talking about. This book had me absolutely dead at work, and it was really hard to keep everything inside from bursting out. I just wanted to share how connected I was to a book, and it had been so long since I’d felt this way. It’s definitely recommended reading from me (and I’m currently trying to force my little sister to read it because IT’S FUCKING IMPORTANT).

“Rashad is absent again today.”

The voice of Rashad was authentic, and Guy Lockard read him oh so well. I was sitting at my desk at work getting all warm and fuzzy on the inside because it was like we had a secret shared existence in that moment. Much like when Black Twitter starts trending #ThanksgivingClapback or #BlackPlotTwist or #BlackSalonProblems. On some level, I got everything that was being said, and I was just happy to be alive able to share that with someone else for a change. All American Boys drew me in with this sense of connectedness. It gave me this light and airy feeling, if you will, then everything went to shit.

While Rashad is out grabbing chips from the local corner store, in an act that can only be described as bad luck, he ends up the recipient of quite the beating from a cop– a white cop because that’s important to note for this story. If that ain’t relevant to the current situation of the US alone, I don’t know what is. It’s like I said in my #Bookvember recommendation post a while back, I wondered how long it would be before we were gifted with books that dealt with the struggles of present day blacks. You don’t even know. I have been waiting for a book to address today’s youth in the place they are, and this book was a giant step in that direction.

I did find that the message of All American Boys was sometimes way too preachy and way too uplifting. To be honest, it’s a book that begged to be quoted, and I rarely have time for those. A few chapters into reading it, though, I began to compare it to LGBTQIA fiction. More specifically, LGBTQIA YA fiction. Before we as a book society got to a point where queer characters could just be, there was this period of coming out stories. This one is ours, I guess. If you see just how fast this world is tumbling to hell right now… If you see all of the innocent black women and men and CHILDREN being killed by police, it’ll become clear why All American Boys necessary in this moment.

When I originally meant to post this review (right after reading/listening), I had been ready to complain about why this book kept preaching to the choir about acceptance of differences and the revelations Quinn was going through to get to this point where he could be an ally to those who needed it now. Then the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile happened back-to-back, and I cried because really All American Boys is the book we as a people need right now. We can’t not have our “coming out story” shown to the world. So, until we can talk about this issue of racism and general lack of care for black bodies and fix it. Until we can just start seeing black people as they are (hell, until we can start seeing black people AS FUCKING PEOPLE), we’re going to have to hit you first with our common sense “stop being a racist” books. And, you know what, I’m okay with that.

Needless to say, I changed my tune real quick because this isn’t everyone’s reality. In fact, we haven’t had too many books open up this kind of dialogue on the recent struggles the black community has been facing with racist, overzealous cops (and equally racist, overzealous civilians). We haven’t had too many depictions of the Black Lives Matter movement in books for our children to consume. I, for one, am thankful (get it? ’cause the Day of Thanks is tomorrow) that this book has opened up that dialogue; and I’m even more excited for the many books that will take up the same.

*cough cough* The Hate U Give… I’m waiting on you, bby *cough cough*


2 thoughts on “Audiobook Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

  1. “Until we can just start seeing black people as they are (hell, until we can start seeing black people AS FUCKING PEOPLE), we’re going to have to hit you first with our common sense “stop being a racist” books.”

    This. Unfortunately.

    I agree with your comparison between the growth of LGBTQIA+ representation in YA fiction, and the potential course of black representation. And as a genderqueer, not-heterosexual person, I have strong feelings on the topic, based on my own frustrating, depressing experience of seeking representation. My strong feelings tend toward fury, and I hope you don’t mind if I preach to the choir about it a bit. I’m filled with all the capslock emotions and need to keyboard-smash them out. 😅

    As more YA stories about (and, please Santa, by) black people are published, I desperately hope we see at least a fairly even balance between the “stop being a racist” books and the “black people engaged in [awesome adventures/solving murders/defeating evil magicians/etc.]” books. Yes, educating white readers is (unfortunately) necessary, but it’s imperative for black readers to be able to see themselves doing all the things white characters have been doing for approximately eternity. Delaying the normalcy of awesome black characters telling their own awesome stories just so some shitty white readers can learn to not be awful people would be only a halfhearted step toward diversity on the publishers’ side.

    Seeing yourself represented as a normal human being, doing all the great things that (white, straight, cisgender) “standard” protagonists get to do, is so very important. Tackling racism by targeting white readers with capital-M Message books is great, but black readers’ needs cannot be ignored or put on hold. It’d be just another way in which white people are prioritized, while black people are allowed (made, forced) to suffer. And holy fuck has the black community suffered enough already.

    So, yes. Hurray for this book! But if this is the beginning of flurry of prominent “hey white folks, open your eyes to the beauty of non-bigotry” stories, while awesome black stories are pushed aside (or receive only minimal marketing deals/promotion/support from publishers), I’m going to flip my shit. Black readers deserve better.

    I’m, uh, going to go do some breathing exercises and make some hot chocolate or something. Thank you for sharing this review, and putting up with my ranting. <3


    • Okay, I’ll admit that it felt amazing to vent my frustration at publishers with a friend who could totally understand that frustration. (My real-life friends and family aren’t half as interested in books as I am, and although they’ll listen to me rant, they can’t FEEL it, you know? It doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to me.)


      So I just woke up and first things first want to make sure that I was venting at the publishers, not you, and that I obviously could never speak for the black community, and that I’m just some rando person whose opinions and venting really don’t matter, and I’m so, so sorry if I said something a dumb or insensitive or privileged or selfish. (There are a lot of ways for me to go wrong here, so if I missed something I should apologize for, kindly let me know.) <3


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