Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is an awesome quick read! To say that Ms. Rhodes’ book topic is a hot button issue would minimalize or trivialize the description as trendy or a fad. There is a long history of black boys being murdered. Especially at the hands of white police officers. Rhodes book is the topic around that grim fact.
Ghost Boys is written in the voice of Jerome Rogers, a twelve year old who was being bullied at his school. I say was because Jerome is deceased. The novel flips back and forth to periods when Jerome was alive and when he died. Jerome was being bullied in school but he was not a small boy. In fact, he was of rather large build for his age. So large that the officer responding to the call of a man with a firearm, that only after he made the split second decision shot Jerome in the back did he realize was a boy with a toy gun. According to the officer who robbed Jerome of his life, Jerome was scary.
Jerome’s parents could not understand. He was a good kid who only played video games. He was a good kid who stuck up for his younger sister and against the school bullies. When Carlos moved to Texas, Jerome befriended him and showed him how to avoid the bullies. They spent their lunch period in the bathroom. When the bullies didn’t back off, Carlos had a different way of handling them. He produced a gun and threatened the boys to leave them alone. Carlos convinced Jerome to take the gun home with him. It was a toy, but it was convincing enough and if the bullies tried to bother him, they would back off. Jerome resisted at first, but peer pressure and simple fascination took hold. He took the gun to the park and mimicked videogame and tough guy talk one day, only to be snuffed out by a trigger happy policeman.
Jerome’s spirit is restless and he cannot move on spiritually. He has so much to say and do but was robbed of the opportunity just like countless other boys. The past is prologue is a saying I never fully understood until now. He cannot comfort his little sister, grandmother or his mom or dad. He cannot help Carlos get over his guilt. Jerome is only visible to the policeman’s twelve year old daughter, Sarah.
The story is painful and at times Jerome talks about the plural of the title. There are other boys. Most strikingly, the leader of the Ghost Boys is Emmett Till. If you are looking to read a book that will make you cry, laugh, think and act, this is the book for you. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes.