With these jarring times, it’s tempting for many to turn to escapism to block out the chaos and turbulence in America that is surrounding us. While distracting ourselves can be necessary to balance ourselves and let our minds breathe, it is our responsibility as American citizens to educate ourselves on the injustices of the world if we long to strive for change and equality. Here are 5 fictional books about police brutality involving young black protagonists we all can learn from.
1. ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas (2017)
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Possibly the most well-known novel on this list, The Hate U Give was adapted into a critically acclaimed box office hit film in 2018, starring Amandla Stenberg of the Hunger Games and Algee Smith of Euphoria. Expanded from a short story Thomas wrote in college, the plot of The Hate U Give follows the story of Starr Carter, a 16 year old girl from a poor neighborhood who attends an elite private school. Carter witnesses the tragic murder of her best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a trigger happy cop, after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The media portrays Khalil as a rough gangster and the police officer as a savior and hero, and riots begin to ensue in the area. The realism, dystopian style novel was created in a successful attempt to build empathy and open discussions for the Black Lives Matter movement. It also explores themes of trauma, community, poverty, and addiction.
2. ‘Dear Martin’ by Nic Stone (2017)
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A debut novel written by New York Times best selling young adult fiction author Nic Stone, Dear Martin is a short yet powerful book that follows the story Justyce Mcallister, a straight A student who is shot at by a white police officer one night after he is listening to music in his car with his friends. The book’s title is derived from the fact that it is entirely composed of Mcallister’s writings to his idol, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The raw and gripping novel explores themes of racial bias and social justice. Dear Martin accomplishes the difficult task of having readers feel, learn, and listen simultaneously.
3. ‘Tyler Johnson Was Here’ BY JAY COLES (2018)
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For fans of The Hate U Give, Coles’ novel follows the story of two twins, Marvin and Tyler Johnson. The family grows up in a rough black neighborhood, therefore witnessing police brutality is a familiar occurrence in their lives. They have seen cops bodyslam, open fire on, and overall abuse black children, all without any repercussions. After attending a shady high school party raided by the police, Tyler mysteriously goes missing, seriously alarming his family. But after a video becomes leaked to the public, the horrifying truth is revealed: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. The novel then centers around Marvin’s struggle to cope and grapple with the tragic event, as he attempts to find peace and not let anger overcome him. Eerie and intense, Tyler Johnson Was Here depicts themes of youth, family, politics, and gun control, and the power of stereotypes and hate.
4. ‘All American Boys’ by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds (2015)
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Two New York based authors were inspired to collaborate after the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin, and the Ferguson riots. The novel follows the story of two high school friends, Rashad, who is black, and Quinn, who is white. One day at a shopping mall, Rashad is wrongly accused of shoplifting and brutally beaten by a police officer, while Quinn initially turns away and pretends he doesn’t see it, because the officer involved is a family friend of his. However, the assault is captured on video by bystanders and quickly goes viral, opening discussions about institutionalized racial bias and the controversial “stop and frisk” law that was implemented in New York City after the Central Park Five incident. The novel explores themes of the dangers of indifference and complicity, showing that staying neutral ultimately empowers oppressors.
5. ‘Ghost Boys’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2018)
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The fantasy style novel is inspired by the murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. Ghost Boys follows the story of Jerome, a twelve year old black boy who is shot and killed by a police officer while he is playing with a toy gun out in public. In the afterlife, he comes face to face with Emmet Til, who met a similar fate due to his race in 1955, and Sarah, the daughter of the police officer. All three help each other process and cope with the events that lead to their deaths. The novel explores themes of healing, unity, and how the living need to come together in order to make the world a better place.