The Boy in the Black Suit

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
The Boy in the Black Suit Book Poster Image
Soul-gripping story of teen's grief and hope.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The novel brings a nuanced and thoughtful approach to the subject of grief and the various ways people handle it.

Positive Messages

Positive messages about communication, positive grief management, and establishing nurturing relationships.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Fully fleshed-out characters serve as positive adult and teen role models. They have faults but learn from their mistakes. The lessons they learn are positive examples for readers.

Violence

Death and different ways death occurs are covered throughout the novel. One woman is violently murdered by a boyfriend while two young boys briefly witness the act. The scene is described briefly and mainly focuses on the gunshot and a child screaming. The children are uninjured. Other people die from cancer, falling, old age, and gang-related violence. Their deaths aren't shown, but their funerals are shown through the eyes of a funeral home worker. A boy recalls having his lip busted in a fight in middle school.

Sex

A boy and girl kiss several times, men have birds-and-the-bees talks with teen boys using various metaphors, and teen boys often check out teen girls.

Language

Some almost-swear words and one actual one: "damn." "Gay" is used as a slur.

Consumerism

Some name brands, such as Nike, mentioned, mainly to illustrate a point.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults are shown smoking, and two adults are heavy drinkers.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds, a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, deals with death and grief. The death of a parent is a central focus of the book, and a teen begins work in a funeral home. Parents should be ready to discuss grief and different ways people cope with it.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCatharine L. February 7, 2017

A wonderful realistic fiction book.

The Boy in the Black Suit is a wonderful realistic fiction book. Our main character Matt has lost his mother, this is the aftermath. There aren't many desc... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byseermist1397 May 24, 2016

Simple but Powerful

It didn't swear a lot and had a few not described kisses. It was about a teen dealing with grief that goes to work at a funeral home where he feels less... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old June 23, 2017

Inspiring!

This book is amazing and really makes you think about life. There is one violent scene and a LOT of language.

What's the story?

Matt's mother died of breast cancer, and his father has turned to drinking heavily, leaving Matt alone to deal with his grief. Even his friends treat him differently. Matt uses his experience at his funeral home job to help him cope with the loss of his mother. Just before he begins his new job, he meets someone who has lost even more -- and is stronger than he could have ever imagined. Can Matt find joy again with the help of the strange girl with whom he has so much in common?

Is it any good?

This page-turner is an emotional roller coaster ride of sorrow, grief, friendship, hope, and joy. It explores a kid's worst fear -- the death of a parent -- and walks with 17-year-old Matt on his journey, taking a nuanced and layered approach that is raw, real, and oddly welcome. So often, books that deal with grieving young people show kids going through long periods of acting out until they reach a quick and tidy resolution. Author Jason Reynolds leaves that overdone approach behind and shows teens reacting with the same complex emotional response to death that any adult would. One can argue that Matt is even better equipped to deal with his grief because he has yet to form damaging habits that often take over a person's life during times of sorrow.

It's refreshing to see a contemporary novel that deals with male feelings in a way that doesn't reduce them to either overly macho or fantastically sensitive stereotypes. Reynolds shows multiple generations of men being open with their emotions and feeling OK with communicating those feelings with people close to them. Parents and teens will love this book's quick pace, complex character portrayals, and positive but realistic story line.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about coping with painful issues. Do you have someone you can always talk to? How have you worked through pain and loss in your life?

  • How does this book compare with other novels you've read that have grieving characters? What is it about grief that makes it a compelling element in a story?

  • Families can also discuss the importance of getting to know people instead of judging them on their looks. On Matt's first trip to the homeless shelter, he expects people to behave a certain way, but they surprise him. Have you ever judged a book by its cover, so to speak?

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