Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles (Book Review)

Publisher: Little Brown Books
Page Count
: 305

TW: police brutality, murder, violence, racism

Tyler Johnson Was Here was on my TBR before it ever even got released. When I saw the cover and read the blurb, I knew this was yet another very important read. It’s not the first time I am tackling the issue of police brutality through fiction on my blog. The thing is, those reads are never easy (and they’re not supposed to be), but that’s not the reason I hadn’t gotten to Tyler Johnson Was Here earlier. I don’t know why it slipped through my fingers, but the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed in the US and all over the world were a terrible reminder of how this is still very much the reality for Black people and people of color out there. So, I felt more compelled than ever to finally get to this book.

Jay Coles does not shy away from making it very clear that police brutality is a constant companion in some people’s lives. I hate the thought that children who should be carefree and playing with friends have to be educated by their parents about how to behave when the police stops them. How they could have done not even the slightest thing wrong, but everything they say or do could be construed as dangerous at the whim of some stranger. While most of the novels I have read before focus on one specific event of police brutality, Coles shows several incidents, each one shaking you to the core alongside the characters. So, while the main turning point that is mentioned in the blurb “only” occurs at the half-way point, you get this build-up of this constant companion of fear.

The cop yells, “Everybody shut the fuck up.” He looks at the three of us. “You three better get out of here before you’re next.” And now I’m wondering: What does next mean? Next to be treated like a punching bag or an animal? Next to lose my life?

I found myself very quickly attached to Marvin, the main protagonist. He is gentle, kind and smart and has a voice I loved to read about. Tyler is different and similar to him, two sides of the same coin. They were on the verge of growing apart a little bit, but still had that unbreakable bond. Marvin’s sadness was palpable on every single page while reading and I was close to shedding tears more than once. I never doubted that he was stronger than he thought himself capable of (albeit sad he had to be), but he was so incredibly brave towards the end. It was great to see his development throughout the story and see him stand up for what he believes in.

Yes, I’m willing to die for this cause, but the fact that there’s even a chance that I’ll die, become a hashtag, be remembered briefly, and then be completely forgotten and marked as a statistic fucking terrifies me.

I only wish I would have learned as much or at least a bit more about his friends and love interest. I understand that his mind was very much occupied by a traumatic event and I could see how much he cared for and appreciated the people in his life. But still, they fell a bit flat for me in comparison to Marvin, who we got a great feel for! Nonetheless, I enjoyed the focus on community and how it can be a source of strength in such trying times.

Some days, when I do, I just stare at the blackness I see in the mirror hanging on my closet door. I tell myself that I love this skin, that I’ve always loved my blackness, that if the world doesn’t love me, I will love myself for the both of us. After reminding myself that I matter, that I’ve always mattered, that Tyler mattered and still does, I make a promise to myself. I promise to never be silent about things that matter.

I don’t think the story needed a stronger focus on the trial, because the outcome wasn’t what was most important to Marvin in the end. He found his meaning of freedom and what mattered most to him through other means and in honoring his brother in his own way. Still, I’d like to say something: Video evidence should not be necessary to get people heard or to get a conviction or even as much as an arrest. People should not have to be excellent in order to not get killed by the people who were supposed to protect them. It all makes me so very angry, but I’m not surprised anymore. If you are still surprised by any of this, you haven’t been paying attention, because this has been happening for a while now.

Fazit: 4.5/5 stars! Another very important read!

If you want to engage with this topic through fiction some more, here are a couple books I have read and can recommend (as I am sure there are many more that I have not yet read that are really great):

The Hate U Give (The Hate U Give, #1)          Dear Martin (Dear Martin, #1)          All American Boys

Having said all that, I also encourage you to check out some non-fiction books. I have to work harder on that myself, but I found Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (part memoir, part essay) very insightful. I have also heard great things abut Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad.

More resources: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/


Have you read Tyler Johnson Was Here? Do you plan on picking it up? Let’s chat!

Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Book Review)

Publisher: Crown Books
Page Count: 220

I’ve wanted to pick up Dear Martin for the longest time, but I am just glad I finally got around to actually reading it. Not going to lie, I always find it hard to review books like this one. The topics of racial profiling and police brutality are so very important and especially these days, but they also aren’t easy to digest. While I always have that urge to say that it’s a bit different in my country, because the police isn’t as trigger happy as let’s say the US, it would be a blatant lie to say we aren’t struggling with racism as well. Also, my temporary discomfort is nothing compared to the continued struggle of people of colour, so I really just want to recognise how important of a read this is!

Dear Martin is reminiscent of books like All American Boys and The Hate U Give, but also very much its own story with its own style (definitely loved the mixed format of regular text, letters and news broadcasts). Where the other books took me days and days to read, I couldn’t put down Dear Martin and I was done within 2-3 hours. I thought about whether I would have wanted more, but with a little time to ponder over it, I think it really was the perfect length. While I would have appreciated a little more character development from various people here and there and a bit more of a cohesive timeline, I overall can’t say anything really bothered me in this book. In fact, I absolutely loved reading it!

“It’s like I’m trying to climb a mountain, but I’ve got one fool trying to shove me down so I won’t be on his level, and another fool tugging at my leg, trying to pull me to the ground he refuses to leave.”

From the get go, Justyce is a good guy. You see him making all (or at least mostly) the right choices and you are rooting for him, while you also see life and even more so people trying to tear him down every step of the way. My heart really hurt for him, because why be good? Why be the reasonable one? Why keep trying and making those right choices when the reward will never come? No one can tell me they wouldn’t feel defeated after a while, if they knew there were others out there who didn’t want them to succeed. It’s a struggle and one some people will never understand but I hope that this book will get them a little closer to it. Black people or people of colour in general should not have to be excellent at everything they do to be valued members of our communities. It’s a ridiculous notion and something a lot of white people have to work hard to dismantle in their minds.
If I had any say in this, I would make the book part of so many schools reading lists, because I am sure it will not only give people a way of seeing themselves in literature, but it also opens up a discussion about so many important and very current issues.

Obviously, this book has my recommendation written all over it! It’s gripping and real. It’s a punch in the gut and an eye opener. In short, it’s a real must-read.

Fazit: 5/5 stars! Definitely wouldn’t mind if this book was part of a mandatory reading list in some schools!

Did you read Dear Martin? Do you intend to? Let’s talk!

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds/Brendan Kiely (Book Review)

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Publisher: Atheneum
Page Count
: 316

There is so much to say about this book, yet here I am, not even knowing where I should start. I am not saying that police brutality doesn’t exist in my country at all (racism and racial profiling is a global issue and I am not so naive to believe it doesn’t exist where I live), but it always feels different when it takes place in the US. Something about their police seems more trigger-happy and sadly there are more frequent occurrences of brutality. Cases from there even make it into our news from time to time and it twists my gut. I went into this book fully prepared to get my heart broken and All American Boys DEFINITELY delivered!

Despite it taking some time until I really connected with the characters and their voices, I felt they were distinct and authentic. A black and a white protagonist written by a black and a white author, it just seems like a good choice to have the story from various perspectives. It didn’t even take until the end of the first chapter for me to have cold shivers running down my back. There was just something so wrong about the situation – you see what happens, step by step, you know that Rashad was not one bit at fault, yet there is absolutely nothing you can do.

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This novel is extremely timely. It tackles not only police brutality, but also racial bias, integrity, social media as investigatory tools as well as white privilege. Rashad and Quinn both face struggles, admittedly very different ones, but Quinn has the luxury of walking away. While Rashad will have to face court and see the scars as a daily reminder of what happened, Quinn could have chosen to be a silent bystander only, his privilege would have allowed for it, and I am so very glad he didn’t. The lives of those boys were intertwined and altered forever. There were a lot of terrible things happening in this book, but at the same time there is so much beauty in seeing people stand up for each other (friends and strangers alike), Rashad processing what happened through art and Quinn’s courage to fight for what he believes. Black people have to face injustice and pain on a daily basis and they should not have to carry that weight, it’s upon white people to use their privilege and speak up.

I very much doubt that you would go out of this book the way you came in. It effortlessly describes the struggle of many people these days and the work we still have to do. In hindsight, having had a couple weeks to think about it, there is one more thing I would have wanted from the book – consequences. There are far too few instances where there were consequences in real life, so it makes sense and is actually very realistic not to show them, but I wanted that hope somehow. Obviously, the events rattled something and had an effect, but we never get to see how the case is handled at court or how/if Paul gets punished. I very much doubt that I would have wanted several more chapters, because it had a nearly perfect ending, but a quick summary of the following months in a short epilogue? I would have loved that.

Fazit: 5/5 stars! A very important story that made it onto my must-read list.

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Will you be picking up All American Boys? Have you read it already?