Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The Blurb On The Back:

Alive.

Twelve-year-old Jerome doesn’t get into trouble.  He goes to school.  He does his homework.  He takes care of his little sister.

Then Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.

Dead.

As a ghost, watching his family trying to cope with his death, Jerome begins to notice other ghost boys.

Each boy has a story and they all have something in common …

Bit by bit, Jerome begins to understand what really happened – not just to him, but to all of the ghost boys. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

12-year-old Jerome lives with his younger sister Kim, his mum and dad and his grandmother in a rough neighbourhood in Chicago.  He knows his family is poor – not poor poor but both his parents have to work hard and they want Jerome and his sister to study hard and do their homework so they can go to college and have better lives.  He doesn’t tell them that he’s being bullied at school because he doesn’t want them to worry. He just keeps his head down and tries to stay out of trouble.

But then the unthinkable happens: Jerome is shot and killed by a policeman.

Now Jerome is a ghost, left helplessly watching his family as they try to come to terms with his death.  Unable to interact with them, he’s surprised to find that he’s not the only ghost – there’s another boy watching him and behind him, a host of other ghost boys all of whom are there to help him to understand just what has happened to him …

Jewell Parker Rhodes’s middle grade contemporary novel for children aged 9+ is a timely and moving take on Black Lives Matters that’s inspired by the murders of Emmett Till in the 1950s and more recently Tamir Rice and which shows the damage that these deaths leave behind and the institutional and structural racism that makes them happen but it’s a uniquely American book and as such, I’m not sure to what extent British readers will relate.

Parker Rhodes does well at showing Jerome as a normal boy in a tough neighbourhood and I particularly liked the relationship he has with his grandmother, who is both spiritual and superstitious and can sense that his soul is still around after his death.  The most moving scenes are the book are those depicting Jerome’s grudging friendship with new boy Carlos who’s moved to Chicago from San Antonio.  I believed in Jerome being torn between knowing that being with Carlos will make him more of a target for the bullies but at the same time, wanting to have a friend of his own.

The story is split between Jerome’s experiences while alive and the story that pans out after his death (including a court case against the officer responsible).  Parker Rhodes skims over these scenes – giving a sense of the injustice and its impact rather than dwelling on the technical issues, which I understand given the intended readership but I think the sketches did a disservice to the grief suffered by his parents (especially his father).

Parker Rhodes does well at drawing the parallels between the real life murder of Emmett Till (a barbaric act that still shocks today) and Jerome’s death and the study questions at the end will help readers to consider the issues here more closely.  I think she also handles the police officer’s side of the story fairly sensitively with the decision to have his daughter Sarah be able to see and talk to Jerome adding perspective and making clear that this happens as a result of human failings committed by human beings.

My only quibble with the book is that it’s very much focused on the USA and the US experience of racism and as such, although there will undoubtedly be similarities with that suffered or endured by British BAME readers, I’m not sure how close the parallels are.  However that by itself shouldn’t deter people from checking this out as it’s a powerful and moving read that I think children would benefit from.

GHOST BOYS will be released in the United Kingdom on 19th April 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s