Eugenia Vela, kids’ event and marketing coordinator at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., recommends Ghost Boys, Jewell Parker Rhodes's powerful new novel about a black boy killed by a police officer.
You can probably guess what this book is about. The title alone gives it away, but it’s the cover that will draw readers to the shelf—a boy, dark skin and fixed stare, against a bright red background, asking you to hear his story. It’s a familiar one, one we’ve all heard too many times before: Jerome, a 12-year-old black boy, is killed by a white police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. We learn this from the very beginning. The first chapter is called “DEAD.”
Over the years, we’ve seen Jewell Parker Rhodes handle incredibly difficult issues with elegance and grace. Through captivating plot and inimitable style, she’s given us unforgettable characters like Deja in Towers Falling and Laneesha in Ninth Ward. In Ghost Boys, Rhodes introduces us to Jerome, and inevitably to the realities of systemic racism, police brutality, and grief. After Jerome is killed, he lingers. He checks in on his family and friends, witnessing the pain his community is going through once again. In death, he meets the ghost of Emmett Till, who guides him in this new space, between this world and the one that follows, inhabited by all the black boys killed before him.
Ghost Boys is an ambitious and beautiful book. While there’s darkness in every chapter, Rhodes gives us light—we see forgiveness, friendship, and at its core, there is hope. People often talk about “conversation starters” with the hope that the latest tragedy will open us up to each other, to talk and to listen. Sometimes, conversation starters come in the shape of a great book. My hope is that Ghost Boys will be read everywhere. May it be read in schools with teachers and in book clubs all over the world, discussed in depth with friends and strangers alike. I’m most looking forward to discussing with fellow booksellers the best way to promote and handsell this difficult, devastating book to parents, because first and foremost I believe it should be read at home—parents and children huddled in bed, turning the page together.
I am, always and forever, in awe of Jewell Parker Rhodes and it is a privilege to read her work. Do yourself a favor, book friends: read Ghost Boys and pass it on.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown, $16.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-316-26228-6