Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
January 6, 2015
272 pages
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Contains: minimal language (no f-words)
Source: Personal purchase

Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

What first drew me to 'The Boy in the Black Suit' was the cover. Then the blurb. Then I sat in on a panel the author was speaking in at a book festival, and I was sold. And I was not disappointed. This was a great book and a thoughtful story that I finished almost a month ago, and it has still stuck with me.

This story deals with the heavy subject of grief and loss, yet not in an overly heavy way. I felt Matt's loss of his mother and his transitioning into life without her. I felt his pain. But I also found his way of dealing with it so interesting and thoughtful. This story really drew me in, not only with Matt's journey, but also with the creative cast of characters who not only make the story richer, but reveal more of Matt's layers. Mr. Ray in particular was the best and this story was all the better with him in it. He's the perfect secondary character. And of course, a love interest is always a nice treat. But the gentle romance in this story was not overpowering. It may even be too little for some. But I loved that it was enough to be hopeful and sweet without making a mockery of the grieving process.

I also found the author's voice refreshing. I loved that this story was not full of cliches. Matt as our male protagonist and narrator was thoughtfully used. Because the author is male, I found Matt's voice very honest and realistic. Not that female narrators can't write male POV and vice versa. But there was something really special about Matt and what he was dealing with in his life. Often times males are written as over-sexed teens. But considering the subject matter of grief, I felt the author really developed Matt well and made him more than the usual teen boy we are fed. Because teen boys are more than just a stereotype, and African-American teen boys are more than just a stereotype. And Reynolds portrayed Matt and his friends refreshingly well. I'm so glad I picked this book up.

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