This is a must for all middle school libraries, but I wish the writing had been more powerful. Jerome just didn’t seem very angry to me, and he really should have.
AUTHOR: Jewell Parker Rhodes
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown
PUBLICATION DATE: April 17, 2018
SOURCE: Brooklyn Public Library OverDrive
GENRE: realistic fiction
SETTING: Chicago, present-day
GIVE IT TO: MS
SUMMARY: Twelve-year-old Jerome Rogers is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing. Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances.
REVIEW: Like Towers Falling, which is by the same author, Ghost Boys is an important read and perfect for middle schoolers. The writing style is simple and covers lots of serious topics like racism, prejudice, police brutality, bullying, gun violence, gangs, and poverty. As with Towers Falling, I liked that it is written on a middle school level, but once again, I felt the writing lacked power and emotion. I should have been crying considering the topic, but Jerome just seemed too nice and not angry enough. He was murdered by someone who feared Jerome simply because he is black. And then, [spoiler alert–highlight to see–>] the guy gets off without legal punishment because…why? [end spoiler]. Aside from one part where Jerome gets angry enough to move a physical object, Jerome just doesn’t ever seem as mad as he should.
I liked the character of Sarah Moore. Sarah is the daughter of the policeman who killed Jerome. She can actually see Jerome, and there is a reason for that. She is rightly upset with her father. She has everything she could want–a nice house, a cozy bedroom, safe streets to play in–but she still recognizes that her father’s decision to kill Jerome was a “big mistake.” Big mistake again doesn’t feel powerful enough, but at least she recognizes that.
I like the inclusion of Emmett Till and other young black men who were killed because people feared their black skin. Again, I wish Emmett had had a stronger, more powerful voice. Emmett doesn’t say much, and his character is less potent as a result. I also wish Tamir Rice, a boy whose story mirrors Jerome’s, and Trayvon Martin, an unarmed boy shot by a “neighborhood watchman,” had been given voices in the story, but I understand why the author might have chosen to only allow Emmett to speak. I imagine it’s difficult for authors to speak in the voices of murdered children whose deaths are still so fresh (and politically polarizing) today. Most people would agree that Emmett Till’s murder was horrible and wrong, but for Tamir and Trayvon, there are still too many people who say that their murders were justified. Would this politicizing of the deaths of young men make it extra-difficult to give them a voice of their own? I think it would, which could explain why Emmett is the only ghost boy who says anything.
THEMES: racism, prejudice, bullying, poverty, grief, police brutality, gun violence
THE BOTTOM LINE: A must for all middle school and high school libraries. I wish it had been more powerfully-written, but that would probably have made it more YA. While I personally would have loved a more gritty, powerful read, I do appreciate that this book is soft enough to be taught at the middle school level. We already have The Hate U Give and All American Boys for high school readers.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On-order.
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 4/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Engrossing: 4/5
- Writing: 3/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: none
- Violence: mild-medium; murders of two boys described, but it’s not graphic
- Drugs/Alcohol: none