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Book Review: I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings

Publisher’s description

alfonsoAlfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.

When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.

In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak—and the living yield even more surprises.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

What a phenomenal graphic novel. I was completely wrapped up in the world of Alfonso and the ancestors for this story, alternately cheering for activism and hope and crying for injustice and discouragement.

Alfonso is feeling pretty good about life. He loves playing his trumpet, acting, attending his arts high school, being a bike messenger, and flirting with Danetta. The best thing in his life, though, is that his father, who has been incarcerated Alfonso’s entire life, is being released, finally exonerated of a crime he did not commit. But while out shopping for a suit to wear to meet his father, Alfonso is shot and killed by a white off-duty cop. Once dead, Alfonso joins a group of ghosts on a train. These ghosts are the ancestors who are seeking justice and rest. Alfonso learns about their lives and the ways they were killed by police while also going to see scenes from his past as well as what he’s missing in the present. Alfonso is able to see how his parents are coping, to follow the white police officer who killed him, and to see how his name lives on in the media, the justice system, and the many large protests that spring up after his death. An Ancestors Wall at the end lists the names of victims of police violence. This look at the prison industrial complex, the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and the various systems of violence and oppression that have always existed in this country is devastating and important. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781620142639
Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date: 10/15/2017

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher’s description

hate-uInspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty. Soon to be a major motion picture from Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

hate u

 

If you routinely read my book reviews here, you might be thinking, dang, does she just LOOOOOVE every single book or what? Yes and no. Yes, I generally really like every book I review here. No, I don’t love all books. I’m in the fortunate position to get a ton of books sent to me to consider reviewing for TLT. I am under no obligation to review any title (as opposed to, say, reviewing for SLJ, where I review whatever I’m sent and may not end up liking the book). If I start something and it’s not for me, I ditch it. Unless I really have something to say about a book that I don’t like, I’m not going to waste my time reading it or reviewing it. Because why.

 

All that’s to say, here comes another gushing review.

 

This book is so important. It’s also so good, but it’s SO IMPORTANT. And I’d say it’s timely, but violence against black people—specifically police violence against black people—is not a new thing. So the story feels very “ripped from the headlines,” but the damn headlines never change. The names of black people murdered by police officers pile up and you know that list is only going to get longer. So yeah, this book feels very of right now—but “right now” is actually a pretty long period of time. It’s things like the mentions of Twitter, of increased media attention on protests and victims’ stories, Tumblr, and other very contemporary things that make it feel like it’s happening RIGHT NOW, right this very second. Again, chalk that up to the fact that the date might change, but the story never does. Plenty of 90s references (thanks to Chris and Starr’s love of Fresh Prince and her parents’ interests and influence) help add to the feel of being timely and timeless all at once. This book will age well, and I write that while heaving a big sigh, because, again, in real life, the damn story never changes.

 

You can read the summary up there if you need to see the gist of the story, but I’m guessing you’ve already read or heard about it elsewhere. This book is all over the place, and rightfully so. I am rarely speechless, but this book left me just wrung out. Thomas puts you right there with Starr and does not hold back. The characters absolutely leap off the page, pulling the reader right in to every single person’s piece of the story. There is not a character who doesn’t feel well-developed and vital to this novel. Thomas gives readers a LOT to think about as we follow Starr’s story. What does it mean for Starr to live in Garden Heights, a predominately black neighborhood marked by drugs and gangs, but go to school at nearly all-white Williamson Prep? How does she code switch as she bounces between her two worlds and who does she show her actual self to? What does it mean for her that her boyfriend is white? How does casual racism play a role in her school life? Why would her family choose to stay in Garden Heights so long when they are financially able to leave if they wanted to? Why would someone sell drugs? Or join a gang? How do you leave that life? And on and on. There is so much to consider, so much that makes this more than just some simple look at the fallout from the death of a black boy at the hands of a white cop. 

 

There’s so much more I could tell you about–Starr’s wonderful and supportive family, the complex interactions between gang members (and ex-gang members), the way you will be cheering out loud when Starr finally finds her voice and begins to speak out about what happened–but the bottom line of all of it is this: This book is profound. It is important. It manages to be funny and devastating at the same time. This intense look at systemic racism, police violence/accountability, and the lives of people affected by both needs to be read by everyone. EVERYONE. It’s only February, but I’d go so far as to say that this is probably the most important book of 2017. 

 

Because we at TLT find this book to be so important and want to help it reach more readers, we are giving away five copies when it comes out. Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter. Contest ends Friday, February 24. Five winners. US ONLY. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062498533

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/28/2017

Book Review: Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Marie Behnke

Publisher’s description

racial-profilingIn the United States, racial profiling affects thousands of Americans every day. Both individuals and institutions—such as law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and schools—routinely use race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense. The high-profile deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers have brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and have inspired grassroots activism from groups such as Black Lives Matter. Combining rigorous research with powerful personal stories, Racial Profiling explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Every single book that falls under the umbrella of addressing social justice issues and civil rights is always going to be both timely and timeless. They are always relevant. The conversation always needs to be happening. And this book is a great, thorough introduction to thinking critically about racial profiling, a topic that is certainly not new.

 

Told through historical examples, photographs, research, statistics, and personal stories, this book examines the history, manifestations, and consequences of racial profiling. It begins with the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, detailing the 911 call, how important information from that call got omitted in the dispatch call, and the eventual grand jury decision that the actions were justified and the officer wouldn’t face criminal charges. The text offers up the ACLU’s definition of racial profiling as well as Amnesty International’s. In the general background information discussion on profiling, Behnke notes that in law enforcement, some policies explicitly permit racial profiling at some level and in some cases. 20 out of 50 states have no laws banning racial profiling by police, and even if it’s prohibited, it still occurs. The focus of the book isn’t just on law enforcement; any institution or person can engage in profiling. The author points out that this is because of the system of racial bias in the US that allows and encourages profiling—a system with a very long history.

 

Topics covered in this book include: the roots of racial profiling; white privilege; arguments for “positive” effects of profiling (from perceived positive effects on safety to the financial gain of police departments); a look back at historical inequality—slavery and its legacy; the propaganda used to institutionalize stereotypes and engender racism; the Civil War; Reconstruction; voting rights; sharecropping; Jim Crow laws; the KKK; lynching; redlining; 19th century immigration; Japanese internment camps; the civil rights movement of the 1950s and on; Loving v. Virginia; the Black Panthers; the war on drugs; Islamophobia; profiling in schools; employment obstacles; income and housing inequality; microaggressions; environmental racism; health care; the school-to-prison pipeline; stop and frisk; traffic stops; police brutality; jailhouse deaths; hate crimes; incarceration; sentencing; watch lists; bans on immigrants; proposed reforms; racial profiling laws by state; speaking out; protest; organizations; media coverage; social media; Black Lives Matter; white allies; and ways individuals can contribute to the conversation about profiling and inequality, examine biases, and other suggestions for action.

 

Voices of Experience sections share thoughts on racial matters from people such as Sonia Sotomayor and James Baldwin to college students. Terms are defined in the text, with some getting longer explanations separately. Case studies delve deeper into important historical events. Some of the people in these case studies include Emmett Till, Rodney King, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner. A glossary, source notes, bibliography, further information, and index are appended.

 

A very thorough and powerful look at an important topic. Get this on display in your libraries and make sure US history teachers know about this title, as it would be an incredibly useful book to supplement curriculum. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781512402681

Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books 

Publication date: 01/28/2017