Tyler Johnson Was Here


Marvin Johnson and his fraternal twin Tyler are about to graduate from Sojourner Truth High School in Sterling Point, Alabama. With a dad unjustly imprisoned for the past nine years (with ten more to go) and a mom working hard to barely pay the bills and keep her sons safely on the straight and narrow, the brothers find themselves on diverging paths.  Marvin makes plans to study at MIT while Tyler joins a local drug gang to raise money to help his mom with expenses.

Although both have been given The Talk more than once (“No fighting. No talking back to the police. Keep your hands up high in the air. Go with nothing in your pockets. Keep your mouth shut. Get a good look at the cop’s face. Memorize the badge number or the license plate number.”), they are teenagers, inexperienced in dealing with hateful situations and filled with righteous indignation at unfair treatment of themselves and others. Because of this they and their two best friends first witness (and protest) police brutality against an innocent bystander in their neighborhood and then later find themselves involved in another police confrontation, this time at a party that gets out of hand and results in several deaths, including Tyler’s.

This is a familiar story that continues to dominate local and national news and to receive attention in current YA novels, although when the author has one of his characters make the very astute comment that now  “It ain’t even black against white . . . It’s about racists against everyone else,”  you realize just how far we’ve come in this societal hate fest.  I’d like to say that there is some kind of transcendent awareness and hopefulness that elevates this mighty discouraging book but it’s just not there.

Needless to say, there is a lot of descriptive violence, some sexual references to masturbation, one sex scene near the end of the book between Marvin and his girlfriend, and relentless use of profanity (mostly variations of f*** but also racial epithets). Personally, I found the writing style awkward in spots (because of weird metaphors and word misuse) and oddly lacking in emotive power.  Other authors like Angie Thomas have done it better.

Categories: Addiction, Bullying, Controversial YA Topics, Crime, Death and Grieving, Depression, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, LGBTQIA, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Peer Relationships, Social Disorders, Social Media, Violence

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