Powerful, Gripping, Important, and Timely — but Is It Distinguished?
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes has 8 nominations from Heavy Medal readers and is described by reviewers as powerful, gripping, important, and timely. It is definitely all that, and then some: disturbing, harsh, emotionally challenging, and improbable (?).
From the first page when readers see through Jerome’s eyes his small, dead, blood stained body, with all the details (eyes wide open, arms outstretched, cheeks pressed against snowy ground), we know that this is going to be a tough story to follow.
And it is. Jerome does not even get a break before his tragic ending: bullied, isolated, fearful are some words that describe his circumstance. Although there are loving family members, their care does little to improve Jerome’s quality of life.
Rhodes relies heavily on the supernatural device to tell this story, and explains away quickly why only Sarah, the daughter of the police responsible for Jerome’s death, could see him and how Jerome, as a “ghost boy” appears at just the right places and right times to capture the pivotal development of the story following his death and the trial of the cop.
I am still oscillating between admiring the author’s craft, utilizing a straightforward narrative tone that matches Jerome’s young age, and angry at the author of emotionally manipulating me with scenes like the marching of all the “ghost boys.” The latter makes me ultra critical toward certain authorial choices — I find the entire set up of Jerome playing with a fake gun in the snow by himself on that fatal day utterly unconvincing and the way the story is linked to Emmett Till’s murder convenient for didactic purposes. If it is contrived, didactic, and manipulating, then perhaps it is not distinguished?
What do you all think?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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