A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Towers Falling, Ninth Ward), is told by Jerome, a 12-year-old bullied black kid in Chicago who's shot dead by a white policeman while playing with a toy gun. Both his own family and the cop's start to unravel in the wake of this horror as Jerome watches through grieving, anger, court appearances -- and his friend stepping up to defend his little sister from bullies. Along the way, he forms a shaky friendship with the cop's daughter, Sarah (the only living person who can see him), and learns from ghost boy Emmett Till of a long and brutal history of black kids being killed. In a story where there are no winners, the only thing to do is to try to do better.
"'It matters why my dad shot you.'
"'Why, so you can feel better?'
"Sarah starts crying and I feel like the bullies I hate."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Twelve-year-old Jerome, the pride of a poor, hardworking black family in Chicago, is bullied at school. His new friend Carlos scares the bullies away with a toy gun and then gives the toy to Jerome, who's soon out in the street playing with his new toy --- which he knows very well his parents wouldn't allow, but he loves the newfound sense of power. Someone calls in a police report of a gun-brandishing man in the street, and Jerome gets shot dead by a white police officer. As his family and the officer's family fall apart in grief and guilt, Jerome finds himself among centuries' worth of GHOST BOYS, including Emmett Till (lynched in Mississippi in 1955 at the age of 14), who tell their stories of racist violence. And he forms an uneasy friendship with Sarah, the daughter of the man who shot him, as she's the only living person who can see him.
Is it any good?
Jewell Parker Rhodes and her newly killed 12-year-old narrator tell the ripped-from-the-headlines story of another black kid with a toy gun shot dead by a white cop. It's a harrowing, heavy, and sometimes heavy-handed tale with no winners. As the story unfolds and the Ghost Boys gather, we learn a lot about atrocities against other black kids, including Emmett Till, whose murder plays a role in the story. The book presents a lot of serious issues, a lot of complexity, a note of hope, but no quick solutions.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the racial prejudice shown in Ghost Boys. Where does it comes from? Where does it lead? And how can we get past it? How do other stories you know on this theme deal with the issue?
What do you think of having the story's narrator be a dead person who meets other kids in the afterlife and can be seen by one living kid? Why do you think the author made those choices?
Do you think it is a school's responsibility to keep kids physically safe? If kids are not safe at school due to bullies, what should they and their parents do?
- Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, History, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: April 17, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 214
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 25, 2019
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