The Restricted Section: All American Boys

All American Boys

All American Boys

Jeremy Slayter

All American Boys

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely tells the story of two high school boys and how they process racism through the lens of their own history, community, and family.

In the first chapter of the story, Rashad Butler, an African American boy is falsely accused of stealing a bag of chips from a convenience store, resulting in an on-duty police officer severely beating Rashad despite meeting no resistance.

A white classmate of Rashad’s, Quinn Collins, witnesses the event from outside the store, where Rashad has been forced out onto the pavement. Quinn is horrified to realize that the police officer is his best friend’s older brother.

The book switches perspectives between the two characters as the town become aware of the event, forming a divide within the community.

All American Boys (Jeremy Slayter)

Despite evading attempts at removal from Wando Highschool’s optional reading list in 2019, All American Boys was banned from many school libraries across the United States, along with Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, two years later in 2021.

All American Boys was banned for “profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be ‘too much of a sensitive matter right now’”.

This is somewhat ridiculous.

The brief drug use and alcoholism in the book are in no way glorifying the use, and on the contrary, they are often met with a swift reminder of why their use can be harmful.

“Maybe it was the alcohol still in my blood, but the way she said it, I was there, in the night, that hollowed-out gutted feeling, making me feel nervous and stupider than usual, like I couldn’t find the simplest words.”

 Are we really going to ban a book targeted at teenagers for mentioning drugs/alcohol even if the inclusion of these topics deglamorizes their use? 

Pretending an issue doesn’t exist is a good way to send confused teenagers stumbling into reality unprepared. Through a book like All American Boys, teenagers can see unfamiliar, complex concepts through the eyes of someone their age, and through a relatable lens, can more easily make sense of the ideas explored.

Issues arise when a work of fiction uses relatability as a method to influence naive kids in a negative way, but All American Boys never treats substance abuse as something that can make anyone’s life better, rather it leads only to conflict within the story.

All American Boys (Jeremy Slayter)

However, the root of the controversy likely stems from the story’s focus on police brutality.

All American Boys was banned in 2021, suggesting that the decision was prompted by the George Floyd incident in 2020 and the ensuing protests, which parallel the events of the book to some degree.

The goal of the ban was likely to avoid stimulating similar protests within schools. In the story, some students graffiti “RASHAD IS ABSENT AGAIN TODAY” by the front steps of the high school, criticize the administration for avoiding curriculum about racism, and launch a social media campaign.

It’s valid for schools to avoid encouraging vandalization, but at a certain point, the ban comes across as silencing black voices, especially when a major theme of All American Boys is the importance of white people doing their part to Amplify black voices.

Ultimately, it is worrisome to ban a book such as this, and it feels like the point of the book was either missed or ignored.