Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching ground. My right knee bent and my brand new Nikes stained with blood. I stoop and stare at my face, my right cheek flattened on concrete. My eyes are wide open. My mouth too. I’m dead.” – Jerome, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Greetings bibliophiles, it’s been a while since my last book recommendation. This is mainly because I’ve been super busy writing my own novel. Working full time, maintaining a website and sustaining a healthy relationship while writing a book was never going to be an easy feat. But, I’m excited to say that I’m over the half way mark. I will try and add new content as often as possible, but finishing my novel is my main goal at the minute. I’m really proud of it and I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, I couldn’t be more eager to share this wonderful story by Jewell Parker Rhodes. I read Ghost boys in a day. You could easily fly through this book in one sitting. This page turner may be a quick read, but it certainly isn’t a light one. The story is narrated by a twelve-year-old African American boy named Jerome. He’s a good kid with a positive attitude, dreams and ambition. His life isn’t always easy, he describes himself as pudgy and easily teased. He finds it hard to make friends, but his little sister dotes on him. He aptly states “I’m the good kid. Wish I wasn’t. I’ve got troubles, but I don’t get in trouble. Big difference.” Jerome can’t wait to be a grown up and leave the schoolyard bullies behind, he’s convinced he’ll have lots of friends then. He believes he could even be president, just like Obama, and so does his little sister Kim.

Unfortunately, for Jerome, this is never to be. While playing with a toy gun on the street, Jerome is shot and killed by a white police officer.

I’m not giving away any spoilers here. The book opens with Jerome’s death. Those first few pages are like a sucker punch to the gut. Because, although this is fiction, it’s heart-breaking to know that this has happened on countless occasions, probably more than we’d care to believe. This is reality for many of our brothers and sisters. There’s something extremely powerful about the books supernatural approach, to this real-life issue. The chapters alternate between Dead and Alive.

In the Alive chapters we get to look back at Jerome’s life leading up to his tragic murder, and there is no other word for it. In the Dead chapters Jerome recounts step by step the events after his death. This includes his family grieving and the court case for the officer that took his life. You will go through the entire spectrum of emotion while reading this book. After breaking your heart, it will make you angry as hell, and we should be angry. I’m tired of waiting for change, or pretending it’s already arrived. The world has a lot of growing up to do, and I hope we’re all still around to see it when it finally does. Sadly, I’m all too aware that this will unlikely be the case. All we can do, is take responsibility for our own actions, be our own champions, and ensure that the footprint we leave behind is one of positivity and love. My main ambition in life is to leave this world knowing that it was in some small way, a better place for having me in it. We all contribute to the make-up of our society. We all have a voice and the right to use it. How you use yours is up to you. I believe we shouldn’t just champion or fight for the rights and issues which affect us directly. We should fight for all rights. That’s true equality. No one is equal, until we are all equal.

What is so powerful about this piece of fiction is its ability to force us to take a hard look at reality. You can’t just say to yourself “That was sad, but oh well, it’s just a story.” We know that this is happening. Possibly, even right now as you read this. The statistics will terrify you, I’m not even going to go into it, because I’m going to try and get back to this story.

For me, one of the most upsetting parts of the entire story was when Jerome described having the talk. He was referring to a conversation his parents had with him when he was young about the world and how it views black men, how he had to be extra careful just because of the colour of his skin. The most disturbing part about this is that the talk is a real conversation African American parents have to have with their children. This is the world we live in. Throughout the novel Jerome meets other Ghost Boys, all with stories similar to his. One of these boys is Emmett Till. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because he was a real person. Sadly, his story is even more horrific than Jerome’s. In 1955 in Mississippi, at just 14 years old, Emmett Till was brutally murdered. Originally from Chicago, he had been visiting relatives. He was dragged from his great uncle’s home, beaten, mutilated, shot in the head and thrown into a river, all because of an altercation reported by Carolyn Bryant in her grocery store. Bryant accused Till of flirting with her inappropriately. Decades later, she confessed that this had all been a lie. All the boy had done was whistle. It was her husband and his half-brother that committed this heinous murder. No one was ever prosecuted. Emmett’s body washed up three days after his murder. His remains were returned to Chicago. His mother held a public funeral with an open casket, so the world could see what had been done to her son. Photo’s were taken of the body and distributed in a local paper and magazine. These images quickly circulated around the country and people could no longer turn a blind eye to the horrific crimes being committed due to blatant racism. Till’s tragic death helped ignite the Civil Rights movement in America. There are many books and documentaries on Emmett Till. If you don’t know the story, I highly recommend the documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Till. I say it all the time, but the more we educate ourselves on one another, the closer we become, not only to each other, but to eradicating fear, ignorance and hate.

Another character Jerome encounters is Sarah, the daughter of the office that shot him. Sarah is the only living person that can see Jerome. An unlikely friendship blooms between the pair. They form a bond and understanding which can teach us all a great deal. I think I’ve said enough about the plot. I don’t want to give another thing away, because this is truly a book which I believe everyone should read. It’s without a doubt the most powerful novel I’ve read this year. It’s incredible. I wasn’t quite prepared for the impact it would have on me. I urge you to read it and then share it with everyone you know.

On that note, I bid you farewell. It’s time for me to get back to writing my novel. As always, I hope your days are filled with peace, love & poetry.

“Dedicated to the belief that we can all do better, be better, live better. We owe our best to each and every child.” – Jewell Parker Rhodes