Every now and again, a book comes along which stirs you emotionally. It gets under your skin and leaves you thinking for days. Last year, I read the sublime Thornhill by Pam Smy and ended up emotionally drained. It’s rare that this happens, so when you find a book that gives you that emotional rollercoaster it is all the more worthwhile. Within the opening 10 pages of Ghost Boys, I knew I was in a that rollercoaster ride.
Jerome is a 12-year-old boy. He does what he is told and gets on with life. Every day he goes to school where he is confronted by bullies. He has his troubles, yet he is never in trouble. That is until he is killed by a policeman. A white policeman. Jerome was black.
Just typing those words brings emotions flooding back. This is not a difficult read in terms of readability, but it is still a thought-provoking and challenging read. A phrase from Martin Luther King’s famous speech was imprinted on my mind as I read the story – the sweltering heat of injustice. Because at its heart, this is a book about injustice. There were points when I was seething with anger, not just at the book but at the fact Jerome’s death could easily happen in the real world.
Yet the masterstroke is that here we have a book that challenges the reader. We see how the police officer’s family is also torn apart by Jerome’s death. We see that there are no winners when events like this happen. We also see how ingrained prejudice can be. It made me sit up and consider how my life and opinions have been shaped. I’m not ashamed to say that I welled up with emotions (and am now that I’m typing).
By the end of the book one message stand out: it is up to the living to change the world. So Jewell Parker Rhodes challenge is clear, what are you as a reader doing to prevent injustice. It isn’t good enough to sit back and pretend it isn’t your problem.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is perfect to compliment high profile campaigns like Black Lives Matter. It’s also more accessibly written than the fantastic The Hate U Give, which opens it up to a large audience. Undoubtedly, I will be reading this with some of the children I teach.
Paperback: 224 pages
Age Recommendation: 10 years +
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books