Ghost Boys

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Ghost Boys
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Release Date
April 17, 2018
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Twelve-year-old Jerome 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. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

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2 reviews
Unforgettable middle grade novel
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Jewell Parker Rhodes writes electrifying middle grade stories that pack emotion into every sentence, and GHOST BOYS showcases that skill at its best. The story follows Jerome, a 12-year-old Black boy shot by a police officer. The reader is led through both Jerome’s life (being bullied in school; meeting a new friend named Carlos; dreaming of what he might become in the future) and what is happening to him now that he’s dead. After his death, he meets Emmitt Till, another ghost boy murdered by white men in 1955. Jerome is also surprised to find that, as a ghost, the daughter of the cop who killed him can see him. Rhodes explores themes of racism, police brutality, bullying, new friendship, personal growth, and more in this short, powerful novel.

While Jerome is a unique individual, Rhodes shows through Emmitt Till and the other ghost boys that the circumstances of Jerome’s death were not unique and similar instances have been happening for decades. One of the most powerful messages in GHOST BOYS is that the living can, and must, do better. Sara, the cop’s daughter who can see Jerome, is an example of what change can look like. GHOST BOYS provides a safe space to explore these serious themes for young readers.

With sharp writing, quick chapters, and deep themes, GHOST BOYS is a great addition to contemporary middle grade collections.
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Ghost Boys
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I always struggle to review these types of novels--these black lives matter, civil rights-esque novels. I often go into them expecting to be angry. I'm pre-angry before I even start them. Why? Because this is happening, still--today, and though the books are based on fictional characters--the story themselves are all too real.

Jerome, was a kid--playing with a toy gun--when he was gunned down by a police officer. Mistaken for a "grown man," posing as a threat to--society, I suppose.

The world's demonizing of black boys--depicting them as thugs, and villains are not new. But this impression is depicted in the body and the actions of a cop, in "fear" for his life, from a child--who was simply playing.

It's this very idea that never sits right with me. I don't often know what to do with it, when the anger simmers deep within my gut--threating to manifest itself in the form of, God knows what.

I often must take a moment, a deep breath and remind myself that it's simply fiction. That there are good people out there when the line between fiction and reality blur.

Ghost Boys is an eerie depiction of life, after death--specifically life after death by a cop--by racial injustice--by misunderstandings, and ever-present fears. After the gun is shot, after the family mourns, after, after, after.

The story is told in alternating perspectives, before (life), and after (death). To understand or to comprehend this type of death--you must first learn about their life.

There was nothing particularly spectacular about Jerome. He was an average child--and I think that's far more impactful than making him, some superstar. It humanizes his character--because he's just like you, like any other kid--with the potential to do anything.

What was so stellar about the book aside from having the ghost of Emmet Till, is that it honestly reads so well.

It's like this is happening--and you just want to understand it.

I particularly liked that even though Jerome is now a ghost--with no understanding of why he was killed (but feeling the injustice), is that the author allowed his ghost to be visible to the daughter of the cop who killed him.

It's almost poetic in a sense--because I would imagine that the bodies of the young black men and older black men killed, sort of haunt the families affected.

It also allowed the reader to have another understanding of another side of the story. It wasn't only the perspective of Jerome's family--but also of the family of the cop who killed him, and how they deal with it, in real time, so to speak.

My one complaint is that I would have liked to have seen Emmett Till's ghost have more of a voice. There's a part of me that just wants to understand his death--but that's an outrageous expectation, Jewell Parker Rhodes wasn't there. I just wanted to imagine it--even though, it would essentially hurt me.

Aside from that, I think this novel is perfectly written for the age-range it is intended for. It's honest enough to not be a lie--but "soft" enough for a middle-grade aged child to understand.

I think it's honest, and timely--sincere to its message, and important reading. I honestly believe it will help younger children understand. It's something I would put in my classroom (if I were a teacher)--and have honest, open discussions over.

It's the type of novel that will break down walls, barriers, and ignorances--with it's honest and open words. Without comparison, this is a stand-out novel--in this range, and I'd recommend it to adults, and children alike.

I just ask that as you read, you keep an open mind, and an open heart--because this is somebody's story--and most importantly someone's hurt.
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