Book Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Publisher’s Description: “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.”
At its core, The Boy in the Black suit is a moving exploration of grief. Matt is grieving the death of his mother and no one around him knows quite what to say or do. The kids at school don’t know what to do. His dad, struggling with his own grief, doesn’t know what to do, and is returning to alcohol at a time when Matt needs him most. The closest thing Matt has right now is his best friend, Chris, who has promised to act like nothing has changed. And he has Mr. Ray, who gives him a job at the funeral home.
Matt finds a strange type of catharsis in attending the funerals of strangers. Seeing them grieve reminds him that he is not alone and there is someone who understands how he feels. He finds the same type of solace and catharsis in these moments that others find in reading stories.
Matt also meets and begins a sweet and tentative relationship with a girl named Lovey. Their stories are woven together in some really interesting ways that reveal both the heartache of their lives and the hope for healing in the future.
Every character in The Boy in the Black Suit is a revelation, a moving portrait of every day people that we pass in the street or live in our neighborhoods and we wonder what their story is. Reynolds takes the time to paint a word picture of them in such a way that not only do you know their story, you can picture them in your mind.
And I just want to mention that there are some small glimpses and recognition here of those living in low income areas and homelessness, something that I read with an eye towards at this point because I want to see more of my teens real lives reflected in their literature. Lovey takes Matt on a first date to serve food at a homeless shelter and Matt has an eye opening experience that I appreciated for the way it humanizes those who are living in shelters. And Matt’s best friend Chris lives in a very low-income section of town that is plagued by crime. We all know these areas of our own communities and I appreciated this realistic glimpse into the very real challenges that some of our neighborhoods face. I’ve heard Reynolds speak and I know that presenting this type of socioeconomic diversity is important to him and I was moved by the characters and the way he was able to make us think about their lives without being preachy about any issues. These are the stories of the real and every day people that aren’t flashy enough to be in the press or mainstream media. They are our stories; The stories that remind us that life is often mostly about the daily task of simply living, even in the moments of change and heartbreak and challenge. And in the midst of all of this, they remind us that we often have a shoulder to lean on and a reason to find glimpses of hope.
Highly recommended. Seemingly simple, but rich in emotion and character. January 6, 2015 from Atheneum Books for Young Readers. The beauty and mood of it brings to mind If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, another favorite of mine.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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