cover image All You Have to Do

All You Have to Do

Autumn Allen. Kokila, $19.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-593-61904-9

Via perceptive prose and immersive chapters that alternate between 1968 and 1995, Allen highlights two Black teens’ parallel struggles for racial justice, 27 years apart, in this powerful debut. In 1995 Massachusetts, high school senior Gibran faces severe consequences and possible expulsion after disrupting a racist talent show performance at majority-white Lakeside Academy. Though his family pleas with him to “just graduate” and “finish your last year” without incident, Gibran can’t help but chafe against the injustice he witnesses daily. Meanwhile, in the days following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, Columbia student Kevin fights to halt the construction of a university expansion that would further gentrify the surrounding Harlem community. Other culturally relevant happenings, including Vietnam War protests, add narrative heft as Kevin’s attempts to organize initiatives cause a rift between him and his parents. The two boys’ efforts to balance their equity pursuits with interpersonal concerns, such as the importance of caring for oneself amid taxing mental challenges, are expertly rendered. Through Gibran and Kevin’s individual exploits of equality and accountability, fully fleshed-out characters, and skillfully cultivated narrative tension, Allen creates a layered debut that is timely and resonant. Ages 12–up. Agent: Cindy Uh, Creative Artists Agency. (Aug.)