The beauty of literature is that a story can represent and bring a whole era to life. From William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet being a representation of romance during the Elizabethan era, to the writings of John Grisham representing the racial tension in the United States during the 1980s. Today, some of the most prominent topics are police brutality, racial tension, and the discrimination of African Americans in society. A story that has been representative of the time in history that it was set in is All American Boys written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
All American Boys is a story of the abuse put upon Rashad Butler who is a sixteen-year-old African American boy and his classmate Quinn Collins, who witnessed the abuse take place at the bodega. Butler was beaten by the policeman, insert name, because he was wrongly suspected of shoplifting and assaulting a white woman. Initially when Quinn witnesses Rashad get beat by the officer, he plays it off like he didn’t see a thing. The situation that occurred between Rashad and the officer is a reoccurring them in society, especially for African American males. Police Brutality has been a problem in America for decades, but it has become more prominent. With the deaths of innocent men like Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, and many more.
For Reynolds and Kiely, their intention with this novel was to express the anger and frustration felt with a case such as the murder of Trayvon Martin. In an interview with NPR, Reynolds reflects on his initial thoughts when George Zimmerman was acquitted for Trayvon Martin’s murder. Reynolds says, “I’m angry and I’m frustrated and I’m sort of wrought with emotion – and I’m traveling and living with a stranger.” Thus, Reynolds and Kiely came together and began to cowrite the book alongside one another. This is a novel used to perpetuate a conversation that already exists within society, thus is a direct reflection of the era itself. It is a reflection in the sense in which the story was being developed and written as these constant acts of police brutality were being committed nationwide.
It reflects a time in which there is a divide between law enforcement, the community, and African Americans all around the country. The authors use of symbolism in the novel reflect real situations that occurred in the past in regard to police brutality. In the past, there have been cases of police brutality and murder of black men, and all the people surrounding it can do is pull their phones out and record. For example, the reason the world heard about the death of Eric Garner was because a viral video. The authors took these real-life situations that occurred and picked certain aspects from and implemented them into the story as symbolism.
Another reflection of the modern-day era in the story is the taboo in society of talking about racism, especially among whites. In the story, Quinn wants to protest alongside his classmates against the police but he’s being told no. Regardless of him trying to forget what he witnessed, he wants to stand up for Rashad and protest. Thus, he decides to grab a white t-shirt and write “I’M MARCHING” and “ARE YOU?” on the back. Later that night, his mother tells him that he’s not allowed to take part in the march. Ma telling him that led to an argument and eventually that decide to come to terms and give each other a hug. Lastly, the final reflection of today’s era in the novel is the use of social media. When events like these began to occur, people would take their thoughts to social media and create hashtags. In the novel, Rashad goes on google and looks up “#RashadIsAbsentAgainToday,” and finds an abundance of different posts with pictures of him online. There are people advocating for him online and sharing their thoughts. Which is also similar to the death of Eric Garner, when people took to the internet to debate and share their thoughts with the hashtag “#ICantBreathe.”
In conclusion, the novel All American Boys is a reflection of modern-day racism and the current generations reaction to it. These novel presents these reflections through symbolism, dialogue, and the authors use of implementing history into their work. The novel brings the harsh reality that society hears on the news and brings into a fictional world.