Book Review: All You Have To Do by Autumn Allen
Powerful, thought-provoking, and heartfelt, this debut YA novel by author Autumn Allen is a gripping look at what it takes (and takes and takes) for two Black students to succeed in prestigious academic institutions in America.
In ALL YOU HAVE TO DO, two Black young men attend prestigious schools nearly thirty years apart, and yet both navigate similar forms of insidious racism.
In April 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Kevin joins a protest that shuts down his Ivy League campus…
In September 1995, amidst controversy over the Million Man March, Gibran challenges the “See No Color” hypocrisy of his prestigious New England prep school…
As the two students, whose lives overlap in powerful ways, risk losing the opportunities their parents worked hard to provide, they move closer to discovering who they want to be instead of accepting as fact who society and family tell them they are.
Friends. FRIENDS. This book is fantastic. I did a thing I never do: I folded down pages to go back to. I didn’t have little sticky tabs near me, I was trapped under a chiweenie recovering from an anaphylactic reaction to hornet stings, and I NEEDED to be able to look back at these pages.
Make sure you read the little summary up there. It gives you the broad picture. But here’s what I want to tell you. Not only is the writing amazing, not only are the voices phenomenal, but the story is excellent. EXCELLENT. I am not telling you anything new when I say that the United States has a problem with racism. It’s not an understatement to say we have a long way to go, that it often seems like any progress made has been rapidly disappearing. And, as we all know, many of us are living in environments where conversations about racism, about the very facts of this country’s history, of the legacy of slavery are not allowed to happen. NOT ALLOWED. So to read this book, with one story sets in the 1960s and another in the 1990s (and listen, that makes both timelines historical fiction–I was a senior in 1995 just like Gibran is in this story—so it pains me to tell you that that era is definitely a long time ago now), and to see how here we are in 2023 having the same conversations, the same fights, the same problems, the same everything… it’s upsetting. And infuriating. And Gibran is mad. And Kevin is mad. And I am mad. And I hope you are mad, too.
This is a novel about organizing, community, action, and doing the work. It’s a story about speaking out and taking a stand. It’s a story that looks at very specific moments in history—life right around the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and life right around the time of the Million Man March. It is a story where students sit in classrooms and have really uncomfortable conversations, where people living in two very different versions of America don’t agree, don’t see the same things. There are students, especially in the 1990s timeline, who think everything is now equal, who believe we have “moved on” and have dealt with racism and discrimination. During a conversation with Kevin and his friends, in the 1960s, Allen writes, “There are two Americans, one Black and one white, and segregation and unequal treatment are the causes of urban uprisings. Even with the facts, people still act surprised. They don’t want to admit that segregation and unequal living conditions are a form of violence too” (pg 100). And then in the 90s, Gibran and classmates are still trying to come to terms with this reality, to get everyone to understand that we as a society have no somehow moved or or recovered from the many ill effects of slavery. As the class tries to have these conversations, their teacher tells them, “These conversations are not easy to have. But they are important. We broaden our views and hopefully get closer to being the inclusive community we strive to be” (pg 306). It’s 2023 and those lines ring as important as ever—maybe even more so, in this climate of so many working to shut down anything that shows the reality of the history and the present in this country.
This powerful, well-written debut is an outstanding read not to be missed. I have read 164 books this year so far and this book is definitely in my top ten reads of 2023.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/29/2023
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network