Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This is the gripping story of a twelve year old Black boy called Jerome. He is bullied at his school in Chicago, but befriends the new kid, Carlos who arrives from San Antonio. Jerome teaches Carlos all that he has learned to avoid the bullies but, inevitably, the bullies find them. Carlos pulls out a gun, which turns out to be a toy gun, but it serves its purpose and the bullies are scared off. To thank Jerome for his help in settling in, Carlos gives Jerome the toy gun. He wants Jerome to play and have fun with it. Jerome is unsettled with the idea but accepts it, as Carlos is his new friend. It is whilst playing in the park with the toy gun that Jerome is shot dead by a white police officer.
This story recalls the real life murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old Black boy, killed by a white police officer in Ohio in 2014. There are lots of excellent books written for Young Adults (Senior Fiction) that deal with the racial prejudices and tension that still exist in the USA – This is my America by Kim Johnson, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone to name a few. This story is unusual in that it is written for younger children and it is perfect for Years 7 and 8. The story allows for discussion about the complex idea of conscious and unconscious racism.
The idea of bearing witness is central to the story. After death, Jerome joins The Ghost Boys, the ghosts of murdered Black boys, including Emmet Till, who was murdered in 1955 in similar circumstances and whose death kickstarted the Civil rights Movement in the US. The chapters of the story alternate between the last few days of Jerome’s life, and his after-life, where he observes both his family grieving their loss and the guilt of the police officer’s family. The Ghost Boys are trying to change the world, to help the dead to speak and will continue to do so until skin colour no longer matters.
Jerome’s story is both a protest for change and a platform to ask people to learn and not to judge. This is short story and a quick read but it has a big impact. It’s difficult to say I enjoyed it because of the subject matter, but I do think it’s a book you should all read.