Review| Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes & The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Book Review The Hate U Give and Ghost BoysIt is 4am, at least 4 hours earlier than I prefer to wake up. After waking from a weird dream, and finding myself uncharacteristically insomnolent, it occurred to me that this is a rare (perhaps once in a lifetime) opportunity to give the whole awake-before-everyone-else thing a try.

Occasionally, someone who doesn’t know me very well will suggest I try waking up before the kids for some alone time to start the day. This is a laughable prospect as 1) I am a night owl who can’t seem to fall asleep before midnight, who loves a long morning lie-in, and 2) my husband and son are early birds, eliminating most chances for morning quietude. As I type, I suspect that somewhere in my house one of the male species will sense I am awake and cheerfully join me, brightly announcing that wow! I am awake! and proceeding to actually TALK to me.

I can’t make sense of this propensity for morning chatter. Can’t we act like decent human beings with a few mumbled grunts as sufficient greeting, and a giant cup of coffee-or-tea-or-both slowly sipped for an hour before acknowledging each other? That is the humane way to start the day, is it not?

Since my household has been together nearly 24/7 since March, it’s been hard to find tranquil moments to focus and write. So I’m going to give the early bird thing a shot, and try to write a quick review of Ghost Boys and The Hate U Give before everyone else rises.

These two books are very similar in theme, each of them centering around Black youth killed by police. Each of them are written for young audiences – Ghost Boys for middle readers, and The Hate U Give for young adults. Each of them bear strikingly similar narrative tones insofar as they tackle deeply emotional plots with frank, incisive prose.

Ghost Boys

This book kicks off as 12 year old Jerome is dying; shot by a white police officer who spotted him playing with a toy gun. Moments later, Jerome finds himself in ghostly form watching his community in the aftermath of his death. Jerome visits his family, his best friend, and somehow finds himself drawn to the daughter of the police officer who killed him – the only person who can see and talk to him.

The synopsis of this book might leave potential readers thinking its heavy and difficult to read. Yet, there is a luminosity in the way the story is told that uplifts the plot. Reading everything from Jerome’s 12 year old voice infuses the story with youthful wonder. The narrative tone also manages to take a serious, scary, subject and make it accessible and understandable for middle readers.

The Hate U Give

Starr Carter is 16 years old, attending a privileged private school, yet living in a rough underprivileged neighborhood. Starr has her friends from school, and her friends from the neighborhood, and is struggling to reconcile her identity with both worlds. One night, Starr attends a party in her neighborhood where she runs into one of her closest childhood friends, Khalil. When a fight at the party turns to gunfire, Starr and Khalil quickly leave. Driving away from the party and through the neighborhood, Khalil is pulled over by the police and shot. In the aftermath of Khalil’s death, Starr questions  her responsibility to her neighborhood, her relationship to her friends outside of her neighborhood, and her role as key witness in Khalil’s murder.

This book does not hold back. It tackles the topic of racial tension and violence in a forthright way that leaves nothing to misinterpretation. Given the topic, I would not call this an easy read. However, Angie Thomas writes with a clear, straightforward, precision that does make this book highly accessible. It is easy to see why it has resonated with so many YA and adult readers. It’s one of those books that should be in every high school library. It’s exceptional from start to finish.

The content is definitely for teen and adult readers. So if you’re a parent, guardian, teacher, librarian, etc., wishing to address this topic with young audiences, I recommend Ghost Boy for young readers, and The Hate U Give for high schoolers to adults.

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