Perfect YA Book

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khenkins Avatar


I read Promise Boys with an eye to it being written for a YA audience, though I am not in that group. As such, it has a perfect structure with a mix of narrative, internal thoughts, newspaper articles and texts in short chapters that keeps the storyline fresh. Many chapters are from one character’s point of view, the most being from the three main characters: Trey, J.B. and Ramon.

These three teenagers of color attend the Promise Boys Preparatory High School where strict discipline, supposedly in service of “raising men,” reins in any spontaneity or joy. The restrictions -- no speaking to any other student, walking in certain “lanes” in the hallways, no movement in the classroom without the teacher’s permission, etc. -- resonate with the visible as well as invisible “rules” for people of color who want to avoid being harassed, ostracized, assaulted or arrested. While the plot in Promise Boys centers on the school principal’s murder (the main characters are the three main suspects) and the killer’s apprehension, themes of racial stereotyping, bigotry, and oppression of the disadvantaged are deepened with each chapter.

Author Nick Brooks provides rich and realistic details in the lives of Trey, J.B. and Ramon. One reviewer aptly says that each has a “bruised heart,” and what else could happen to the hearts of young men of color in today’s world? Thus in the novel each young man has talent and integrity such that being in the wrong place at the wrong time to be arrested seems immensely unfair. The three teen suspects unite to find the real killer, and, happily for the hearts of the readers, the story ends on positive notes for each of them.

This book is perfect for middle and high school classrooms and libraries. In the Acknowledgements Brooks expresses gratitude for the inspiration given him by his former students and the athletes he coached.

I am grateful to Macmillan Publishers and Bookish First for an advance copy of this book. This is an honest review.