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'All American Boys' Authors Visit West Farms


All American Boys authors at West FarmsAll American Boys cover

It was all over a bag of chips. Rashad found himself on the floor of the bodega being beaten by a cop. Quinn, a high school classmate, saw it all from outside the window. What happens next is the basis for All American Boys, a story told in alternating chapters by its main characters and written by alternating authors, Jason Reynolds (writing Rashad) and Brendan Kiely (writing Quinn).

On October 26 the West Farms branch was lucky to have Mr. Kiely and Mr. Reynolds come to discuss their book, All American Boys, but also to talk about the issues that the book raises.

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Mr. Reynolds, a consummate storyteller, started things off with a true story from his teen years. Mr. Kiely carried on from there with a story from his teens. Mr. Reynolds, African American, and Mr. Kiely, Caucasian, had dramatically different experiences involving traffic stops. Mr. Reynolds, who was a passenger in a vehicle which committed no violation, was handcuffed and made to wait face down on the ground while Mr. Kiely, who was driving a vehicle traveling 30 mph over the speed limit was given a warning and sent on his way.

This opened up the conversation about race and profiling, as well as inappropriate police conduct, all of which are the basis of All American Boys. Teens asked fantastic questions which ranged from questions about the book itself (Is it fiction or nonfiction? Fiction but steeped in real events happening in real communities) to legal (Can the police really search your car if they want to? This stemmed from Mr. Reynolds’ story about his youth). After the “presentation” part was over, Mr. Kiely and Mr. Reynolds stayed and talked to anyone who wanted to ask them more. Several teens hung out to speak with them.

When I asked Mr. Kiely for a quote for this post I was expecting a brief, “it was great” or a bit about the book. What I got was so much more. Mr. Kiely said “Jason and I loved our time at West Farms. We write books because we're inspired by the young people, like the ones we met there, who show up and immediately jump in with questions and stories of their own. We're inspired by them and hope to inspire them right back. In fact, our book, AAB, is really a story about the power young people have to stand up, rise up, in the face of adults who don't see their potential. This book is for the West Farms kids who live all over this country.”

Jason Reynolds is the author of critically acclaimed When I Was the Greatest, for which he was the recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, Boy in the Black Suit, and All American Boys, co-written with Brendan Kiely, whose book The Gospel of Winter was selected as one of the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults.

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