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Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Atheneum Books for Young Readers 
Publishing Date: January 6, 2015

In Jason Reynold’s second YA novel, The Boy in the Black Suit, he again delivers a heartfelt and honest portrayal about the life of a male teen, Matthew (Matt) Miller, living in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bed-Stuy. The novel begins with Matt dealing with the recent death of his mother. The reader follows his journey as he navigates with life without his mother, as well as his father who has returned to drinking. Along the way Matt takes an afterschool job at a funeral home, and finds love.

As is becoming a hallmark of Reynold’s writing, the characters are beautifully drawn. These are living and breathing characters that the reader can picture just closing their eyes. Take this passage as an example when describing one of the characters, a middle-aged man:

“But he still looked young. Way younger than Mr. Ray. And he was always dressed like he was looking for a date. Tight suits with his shirt always unbuttoned down to the middle of his chest like we live on some island or something. He always wore gold watches, gold chains, had a gold slug in the front of his mouth, and wore a gold nugget ring on his pinky. My mother used to always clown him, saying he was stuck somewhere between 1970 and outer space.” *

Can you picture him? Can you see him in your mind? I can. This character is actually a fairly minor character in the story, but all the characters receive the same treatment, no matter how important they are to the story. Reynold’s characterization goes a long way drawing you further into his work.

The writing as a whole is the strongest element of the book. Reynold’s has an amazing ability to say the absolute perfect thing, in just a few words. The description of something as mundane as teenagers in a school hall, combined with authentic dialog, takes you to that place.

Another highlight is the pacing of the book. There were no slow parts, which is always critical. There is nothing worse than a book that stalls out, facing you to drag through it. If anything, sometimes this book went a little too fast. I flew through it waiting to see if Matt is able to find the solace he is searching for.

While the plot is actually nothing that I can relate directly relate to, I have people close to me who have lost a parent at a young age. So while I have never experienced what Matt has, I can certainly empathize with him. His desire to find answers and comfort in other’s grief is certainly understandable. Yet, it is a small twist in the plot that actually prevents this from being a perfect book. It comes towards the end, and is just too convenient, and I think unnecessary. If anything, that little twist completely takes away from the story and almost lends inauthenticity to a story that was completely real until that point.

Bottom Line: I laughed, I cried, and it was beautiful.

Source: ARC provided by Simon & Schuster in exchange for my honest review.

 *Text comes from an ARC.  There may be changes in final copy.

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