All American Boys Summary

All American Boys is a 2015 young adult novel about two high school students, Quinn Collins and Rashad Butler, who confront racism and police brutality in the town of Springfield.

  • On his way to a party, Quinn witnesses his family friend Paul Galluzzo, a police officer, beating his classmate Rashad outside a convenience store.
  • As Rashad recovers in the hospital, his classmates plan a protest march. Despite most of his friends siding with the Galluzzos, Quinn decides to participate.
  • Rashad leads the protest with his friends and family while Quinn and thousands of other community members march in solidarity.

Summary

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Last Updated on September 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 830

All American Boys takes place in a city called Springfield, somewhere in the United States, over the course of one week. Each chapter describes one day and is broken into two parts, told by two different narrators.

The story begins with Rashad, a Black high school junior and the first...

(The entire section contains 1830 words.)

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All American Boys takes place in a city called Springfield, somewhere in the United States, over the course of one week. Each chapter describes one day and is broken into two parts, told by two different narrators.

The story begins with Rashad, a Black high school junior and the first narrator, getting ready to go to a party after school. When he enters a convenience store to buy a bag of chips and a pack of gum, a woman accidentally trips over him while he is looking in his school bag for his phone. Alerted by the commotion, the store’s clerk accuses him of trying to steal the chips, and a policeman takes Rashad outside and beats him unconscious. Meanwhile, Quinn, a white high school senior and the second narrator, is standing outside the convenience store when the policeman beats Rashad. Quinn does not know Rashad, but he recognizes the policeman as Paul, the older brother of one of his best friends. Paul also stepped in as a father figure when Quinn’s father was killed in Afghanistan.

The rest of Rashad’s story takes place primarily in the hospital, where he is suffering from internal bleeding. Rashad initially feels violated, but as a national news story begins to develop around his experience with police brutality, Rashad must determine how he wants to deal with the situation. He vacillates between wanting to ignore what happened and go back to his normal life and realizing that he has the power to make a political statement. In the hospital, he is subject to a number of opinions; his father, a former police officer, initially seeks to blame Rashad for what happened and cannot come to terms with the idea that a police officer would have beaten Rashad without just cause. Rashad’s brother, Spoony, is a political activist who attempts to help Rashad by contacting the press and organizing a protest march. While Rashad feels victimized, he is not sure that he wants to become a political icon representing the injustices of police brutality.

To pass the time during his recovery, Rashad draws—a hobby he had before his experience with police violence—and bases his style on that of Aaron Douglas, a painter from the Harlem Renaissance. Over time, Rashad’s sketches become more detailed and more political. He is still unsure if he wants to lead a protest march with his brother and friends when he is visited by Mrs. Fitzgerald, who runs the hospital gift shop. She tells Rashad that she regrets never having become involved in the civil rights movement when she was younger and encourages him to take a stand. Rashad’s father later visits him again as well, telling Rashad that he quit the police force when Rashad was young because he had wrongfully shot and paralyzed a young Black man whom he had thought was a criminal. In the final chapter, Rashad is nervous, but he musters up the courage to march from the convenience store to the police station along with thousands of members of the Springfield community. At the end of his story, Rashad lies on the ground, representing a dead body, while his brother yells the names of other victims of police violence through a megaphone.

Meanwhile, Quinn must come to terms with the unjust police brutality that he witnessed and determine where his convictions lie: should he be faithful to his friends and family, or should he make a statement to the police, damning Paul, who was once his role model and father figure? Throughout the first few chapters, Quinn tries to stay neutral in the debate on whether Paul was wrong to beat Rashad. Neutrality is also the stance that his basketball coach has encouraged his team to take, as students from Quinn’s high school are being scouted, and the coach wants each team member to play at their best. After attending a barbecue with Paul, however, Quinn realizes that he is now uncomfortable around Paul and cannot see him as anything but a bully.

Quinn begins speaking to his crush, Jill, about his feelings, and she urges him to be honest with himself and take a stand against police violence, as she is doing by helping to organize a protest march. The school also becomes divided on the issue of Paul and Rashad. Was Paul just doing his job, or did he make a racist assumption that fueled an unjust beating? Although Quinn initially refuses to choose sides, he eventually realizes that this alienates him, and he is criticized as he tries to remain neutral. Eventually, he estranges himself from his best friend and Paul, choosing to march in the protest. His story ends as he realizes that neutrality is the same as allowing oppression, and he lies on the ground during the protest in solidarity with the other protesters. By standing up for freedom and justice, Quinn believes he is following in his father’s footsteps.

Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1000

Authors: Jason Reynolds (b. 1983) and Brendan Kiely (b. 1977)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Young adult literature

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Springfield

Principal characters

Rashad Butler, a sixteen-year-old African American junior ROTC member

Quinn Collins, a sixteen-year-old white basketball player

Paul Galluzzo, a police officer

The Story

All American Boys is a dual narrative written by two award-winning authors. Jason Reynolds, the author of Ghost (2016), writes from the perspective of Rashad Butler, a sixteen-year-old junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) member. Brendan Kiely, the author of The Gospel of Winter (2014), writes from the perspective of Quinn Collins, a sixteen-year-old basketball player whose father died in Afghanistan. The novel takes place in the fictional town of Springfield.Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

All American Boys begins on a Friday. Rashad is eager to take off his junior ROTC uniform and head to a party with his friends. Alone, he stops off at a convenience store to buy a bag of potato chips. When he kneels to open his duffel bag for a dollar, a white woman trips over him. This commotion attracts the attention of a police officer, Paul Galluzzo, who immediately suspects Rashad of stealing. As Rashad struggles to explain he was not stealing, Galluzzo drags him out of the store and gives him a brutal beating.

Quinn is a few feet away in the parking lot—looking for an adult willing to buy him beer. Quinn goes to school with Rashad, but he does not recognize him. When he sees, however, that the unmerciful cop is Galluzzo, his best friend's brother, he flees the scene. Later at a party, the same party Rashad was planning to attend, Quinn cannot get rid of the image and sound of bone crunching against the pavement. Meanwhile, Rashad is taken to a hospital with a broken nose, broken ribs, and internal bleeding. While his mother is fearful and sad, his father, a former cop himself, is suspicious of his son's innocence and thinks that Rashad must have stolen the bag of chips, or at least done something to provoke the officer. Furthermore, Rashad's brother Spoony, an outspoken activist, is furious.

Spoony helps unearth cell phone footage of Rashad's brutal beating and the situation quickly escalates. The media widely covers the incident and Rashad grapples with it. While the Galluzzo family rallies the neighborhood for support for Paul, Quinn is torn. After Quinn's father died in Afghanistan, Paul, several years older, became his surrogate father. Quinn, however, has trouble reconciling the man he thought he knew with the one he saw in the parking lot. Meanwhile, Rashad's friends come up with the hashtag #RashadIsAbsentAgainToday—which is first revealed via graffiti at their high school. The school cannot stop talking about the incident, and some students decide to organize a protest. Quinn, who spends most of the week in agony trying to decide whether to go to the police or remain silent, concludes that he must take a stand.

The school is split along racial lines regarding the protest. To further complicate matters, there is a subplot involving the basketball team. English, Rashad's best friend, and Quinn are the best players on the team. Each hopes to win a basketball scholarship to a major school. The coach, however, forbids his players to attend the protest. Quinn chooses to go despite alienating his family and possibly losing his spot on the team. Meanwhile, Rashad, who also attends the protest, struggles to assert his humanity while watching himself endlessly on the news. In the last scene of the novel, as the participants lie on the pavement in front of the convenience store in a staged die-in, the two authors write the boys' thoughts side by side as they listen to the list of names of black men and women killed by police officers.

Critical Evaluation

Reynolds and Kiely met during a book tour in 2013. That summer, George Zimmerman—a man who in 2012 killed unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin in Stanford, Florida, in an incident that drew national attention—was acquitted. In 2014, another unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, a police officer at the time. As the two authors, one black and one white, grappled with the brutality of the killings, they decided to write a book inspired by those events and their conversations about them.

All American Boys is a fictional story but its details are drawn from real life. The authors emphasize, for instance, the way Rashad is portrayed on the news. Some networks show photos of him in his ROTC uniform, while others, purposefully shifting the narrative, show him acting silly with his friends and wearing baggy clothes. The protest that takes place in the novel will be familiar to readers who watched the protests in Ferguson or the riots in Baltimore, Maryland, following the death of Freddie Gray. Gray was a twenty-five-year-old African American man who died while he was in police custody in 2015.

Furthermore, the adoption of the phrase "Absent again today" echoes the real-world "Black lives matter," a phrase that came from a single incident and became a movement. The book builds on the understanding that Rashad, a boy who will never be the same, is part of a much larger story and movement. By adopting a twin narrative, Reynolds and Kiely suggest that people of all races have a role to play in it.

Further Reading

  • Kiely, Brendan, and Jason Reynolds. "All American Boys: A Young Adult Book about a Police Beating and a Hard Choice." Interview by Karen Grigsby Bates. National Public Radio, 25 Nov. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/11/25/457168819/all-american-boys-a-young-adult-book-about-a-police-beating-and-a-hard-choice. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
  • Magoon, Kekla. Review of All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The New York Times, 18 Dec. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/books/review/all-american-boys-by-jason-reynolds-and-brendan-kiely.html. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Kirkus Reviews, 1 Aug. 2015, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jason-reynolds/all-american-boys. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
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