Book Review: Ghost Boys

CONTENT WARNING: racial prejudice, death-by-cop, Emmett Till

Can’t undo wrong. Can only do our best to make things right. – Grandma (p. 174)

Stories capture perspective, feelings, and personal history. They link us together as we listen and process them. They help us see connections between our prejudices and actions towards one another. Sometimes it is in the storytelling that we begin to see where we need to change. Sometimes we are confronted by our own lack of clarity. Ghost Boys is that kind of book. Written for young readers, the content is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Jerome is a 12-year-old middle schooler. In another suburb of Chicago, a world apart, lives Sarah. Sarah’s dad is a cop. Jerome, the book’s narrator, is shot by Sarah’s dad because he is threatened by Jerome’s toy gun. It is a too-familiar reality: a black youth killed by the police. Ghost Boys is the front page headlines, real and in-your-face.

In today’s world, it is raw and a little too real. But we (and by “we” I mean white people) need to read, process and recognize how we fit into the narrative.

Jewel Parker Rhodes takes the reader on the real-life, emotional journey of reconciling the reality of yet another black child, black woman, black man killed by police. She intertwines the story of Emmett Till, lynched by white men in Mississippi with Jerome’s. And she brings home the heart-rending reminder that racist attacks and murders will only stop as the world listens to their stories and changes their beliefs and actions.

The book is written for children/youth (estimated reading level 5th grade.) Adults, however, will find plenty to think about. The subject matter is timely. The conversations around this book will be challenging because of the disparities of how police treat young black men vs. young white men. The experiences may be to triggering for some, particularly if they have witnessed violent deaths. I appreciated the discussion questions included in the back of the book. They will help white students and their families confront their own racial bias, to “do the work” of dismantling embedded racism.

In addition to discussion questions, there are some resources for parents and educators on topics of racial bias and white supremacy. They are selected for adults to do the work of anti-racism. Let it begin with me.

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better. – Jerome (p. 203)

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown and Company. New York. (c) 2018. Paperback 217 pp. ISBN 978-0-316-26226-2

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