I could see this book being involved in some good classroom discussions. I can also see certain communities resisting this, and not for the right reasons.
From what I can see, Jewell Parker Rhodes’ body of work consists largely of novels dealing with current events and social commentary, aimed at children, and Ghost Boys is no different: in this novel, we follow the spirit of a young black boy named Jerome, after he has been shot by a police officer while playing with a toy gun. Jerome’s spirit both recounts the events leading to the incident, as well as follows his family and the trial surrounding his death. This is where he meets the daughter of the officer who killed him, as she tries to understand her father’s actions and look towards making things better in the future. Jerome also meets the spirits of other young black boys who have been killed over time due to discrimination and racism, most notably Emmett Till from 1950s Mississippi.
The novel brings up real-life events, such as that of Emmett Till, Trayon Martin, etc in relation to this fictitious tale, which illustrates the point of the story very clearly. It also acts as a conduit for increasing further real-world discussion with the intended audience. Being that the anticipated demographic is young, the writing of the novel is clear and the themes are present in a very direct manner without much subtlety, but I don’t think this is too much of a negative factor here: it opens up a few different layers to examine in regards to police violence and racism that I think are clearly presented in order to promote discussion and change.
The only thing, though, is that after all these incidents, I can see this novel as seeming like it’s preaching to the choir for people of color: this understanding of police brutality and systematic discrimination is needed more in predominantly white communities, but I could see these ones as being those that reject this novel for their preferred narrative.
Alas, there is also a peaceful factor to this novel, and a sense of hope that perhaps in the future things will be better as more people come to understand and change. But of course the question ever is, why can’t things just be better now? In any case, Ghost Boys as a novel for young people is real, heartbreaking, but also not completely one of despair. It shows that there is undeniable injustice in this world and urges the reader to recognize this and not just brush it aside, in the hopes that we can all change for the better, and hopefully our future generations will have less to fear as they grow old if only we can learn and teach along the way.