I’ve held off on writing this review, because one aspect of this book didn’t set well with me, but I think it has far more good than not, and it was easy enough to discuss its one problem with my kids. So I decided to give it a go after waking up to another Black man shot by police. Also, it is written by a POC which puts me a little more at ease, but still not entirely.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Los Alamos Public Library) starts at the scene of the extrajudicial police shooting of a young Black boy, Jerome. The circumstances leading up to the shooting are revealed in snippets over the course of the book both in flashbacks and trial coverage. It will sound familiar, though. A good kid who tries to always do the right thing living in a rough neighborhood under circumstances that make the shooting ‘justifiable’ and even ‘laudable’ to those who will always set Black boys on the wrong side of the law.
The book is told through the eyes of Jerome who is now a ghost watching his family mourn and his killer cover backside. His grandmother can sense him and he has the ghost of another boy to give him guidance, but his only real companion turns out to be Sarah, the daughter of his killer. She is a little girl his own age (and size) living a very different life, but struggling just the same.
The heart of the tale is about Jerome and Sarah and their shifting perspectives of each other. Already in turmoil, dealing with people who either call her father a hero or a murderer, Sarah will be forever changed by putting a face to the boy whose life her father ended. The book is masterfully written and ends on a hopeful, but far from easy, note.
My one issue, and it is big, is the use of white female tears. On a few occasions Sarah is overwhelmed with the growth that is being asked of her and escapes through tears. Her life is pretty awful in the moment, so that’s a bit reasonable. My real problem is that when Jerome gets angry with her, he is counseled by his ghost friend to be gentle with her in a way that didn’t sit well with me. It speaks too much to the feelings of white women being centered over the feelings of those who are literally being killed and I wish it would’ve been handled with a little more nuance. In my family, it served as a jumping off point for talking about this issue, but only because I’d read the book.
This book is written for middle grades. My sixth grader enjoyed the book and was able to have good dialogue about it. My fourth grader, who can be very sensitive to things, read through the book in just a few days. She was entranced. It is well done, in the sense that it doesn’t brush over the trauma and horror, but it does handle it in an age-appropriate way. I highly recommend it, with the noted reservations.