Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little Brown, April, 2018 224 pages
Twelve-year-old Jerome does not have an easy life. Although his family has more money than some, they live paycheck to paycheck. He and his little sister must walk through their urban neighborhood past drug dealers and gang members to get to school and once at school, Jerome is constantly threatened by bullies. He spends his lunch in a bathroom stall and it is here that he meets a new boy who becomes a friend. His new friend scares off the bullies with a toy gun, which he lends to Jerome to play with. It is in the park with the toy gun that Jerome is shot by a white police officer, who claims that the twelve-year-old looked like a threat and does not attempt to administer first aid. Jerome dies, but even though his body remains and is buried, his soul becomes a ghost. Jerome's ghost watches his family through the grief process and befriends the only human who can see him, the daughter of the police officer who killed him. Jerome also befriends other black boy/ghosts, who were killed by racism just like himself, led by Emmett Till, the shooting of whom triggered the Civil Rights Movement. Jerome observes his killer's trial and verdict, as well as his family's suffering and is unable to do anything about it. By story's end many characters find some sense of peace and although there are no easy answers they are moving forward towards, hopefully, a better world.
Written in different time periods flashing back from the past to the present, Jerome tells his sad story of how he was shot and the aftermath. The subject matter is not easy nor light, yet the book is timely and important. This is the first book I have read on the Black Lives Matter movement for a middle grade audience and it is perfect for readers not ready for The Hate U Give or American Boys. Certainly Rhodes wrote this book with an agenda in mind, yet the ghost aspect will draw in middle-grade readers and help to entertain them, even as they are being exposed to some of the ills of our society. There are no clear-cut solutions, but Ghost Boys may at least get the conversation started. Beyond the obvious Black Lives Matter theme, Ghost Boys also questions gun use in the United States, including the use of toy guns as playthings, which is another timely controversy. This book reads quickly and I didn't find the jumping between time periods confusing at all. The story ends with the actual shooting, thus building up to a moving final scene. Great for classroom use and as a read aloud, it is a book to be shared. Readers will be encouraged to learn more about Emmett Till and some of the other Ghost Boys, who are no longer with us to tell their own stories. An important book that educates as well as entertains.