Parents' Guide to

Light It Up

By Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Strong police shootings story lacks character development.

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This novel explores the important issue of police shootings of unarmed African American teens but slips into stereotypes and delivers some mixed messages. Light It Up explains the anger over police brutality against unarmed, innocent Black citizens, including children, and shows positive ways that community activists are addressing the issue. It shows how the media can get the story wrong, as well as the ways people can engage with media to get their voices heard. However, there are some weakness in the characterizations. First, selling drugs and being in a gang are normalized and even a bit romanticized. The book also presents graffiti as justified by the importance by the messages. The male-female relationships also present as normal troubling messages like "Girls give sex to get love and boys give love to get sex." The police are portrayed very stereotypically. The shooter also leaves bruises on his wife. Another officer narrates in poetic snippets that come across as robotic.

The multiple narrators help demonstrate how different community members are impacted by the situation, but character development suffers from this technique. Some of the characters seem two-dimensional. In many cases, they don't seem like real people but like personas created to make a point. The police and White characters in particular express points of view that read like caricature written by someone who can't actually empathize with what such a person might believe. The sexual and romantic dynamics between the boys and girls send some negative messages: There's a general theme that boys want it and girls give it, and a lot of girls are under the sway of "bad boys" (and a predatory man).

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