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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Nick Brooks' Promise Boys is a fast-paced, impossible-to-put-down mystery with a powerful message about prejudging someone simply because of the color of their skin or where they come from. After the principal of Urban Promise Prep is murdered, suspicion immediately falls on three boys of color (two Black and one Latino). The story unfolds in multiple voices (including those of the three boys) as it quickly moves back and forth between the present day, the day before the murder, and the day of the murder. The person who finds the body describes a "a red river rushing along the edges of the desk." The principal grabs a student by the collar and shoves him into a locker and one boy's uncle "pops him" from time to time. There's a very brief and sensitively written scene of two teens having sex for the fist time ("All I care about is the girl in front of me, thankful that she trusts me enough to share herself") and some uses of profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "hell"). Characters are Black, Salvadoran American, and White. Each of the three boys is an inspiring example of persevering against tough odds and learning to put aside differences to work together as a team.
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What's the Story?
THE PROMISE BOYS are Trey Jackson, Ramón Zambaro, and J.B. Williams. They've been given what seems like an extraordinary opportunity when they become students at Urban Promise Prep, the best all-boys charter school in Washington, D.C. It's a place that promises to turn boys into men and set them on a path to college and a secure future. But Principal Moore has created an atmosphere of toxic masculinity at the school and put in place a harsh set of rules (no "fraternizing" with fellow students and demerits for anyone not marching out of class with their hands locked behind their backs) that make the school day an emotional minefield for many students. Trey, one of the school's basketball stars, has moved from New York City to live with his strict and sometimes abusive ex-Marine uncle after his mother lost custody. With his father serving time in jail, J.B. lives with his mother in a housing project. He works hard at school, determined to make a future where he can take care of his mom and a future wife. Ramón dreams of being a chef and owning his own restaurant, but his cousin César leads a violent gang called Dioses del Humo and is pressuring Ramón to join. In the day before the murder, all of the boys have angry confrontations with Principal Moore (one even threatened to kill him), so the police immediately focus on the them and bring each of the boys in to be interrogated. As the story unfolds, multiple voices (the boys themselves, family members, other students, a former teacher, a coach, a girlfriend) reveal what they know about the time around the murder and whether they think one of the boys could be the killer. But it's only when Trey, Ramón, and J.B. put their suspicions about one another aside and decide to work together that the murderer is revealed.
Is It Any Good?
This brilliant and intricately plotted mystery has a profound message about the false assumptions educators and police can make about young men of color. Promise Boys offers readers an opportunity to reflect on their own dreams and whether there might be any mistaken assumptions about their own chances of working toward a bright future.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the perseverance shown by the Promise Boys. What qualities of character does each boy have that lets him overcome such tough odds?
How difficult was it for Trey, J.B., and Rámon put aside their differences and suspicions of one another and decide that working together would benefit all of them?
Has a teacher or a coach ever misjudged or underestimated you and your potential? What happened?
- Author: Nick Brooks
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, High School
- Character Strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
- Publication date: January 31, 2023
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 294
- Available on: Paperback, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 6, 2023
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