Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Jay Coles. Hachette: New York, 2018. E-book.
Rating: Decent

Goodreads SummaryWhen Marvin Johnson's twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it's up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

If I were to judge this book by its cover alone, I would give it a raving five stars. Sadly, that is not the case. There were a few things I liked about the book and plenty I did not, actually, down-right hated. So, for this review, I'm deviating from my normal review style and using a bullet format.

The Positives
  • The cover is abso-freaking-lutely gorgeous! The brownness of the cover model pops amid the overlay of text and flowers emitting a sentimental feel despite the horrific subject matter of police brutality. 
  • It's an #ownvoices novel.
  • My heart leapt at the mention of A Different World as it was such a big part of my childhood.
  • As a HBCU graduate and the daughter of one, I loved the recognition given to our country's historical black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
  • Sojourner Truth is one of my favorite historical figures and I loved that Marvin and Tyler's high school was named after her. (SN: I didn't care for the school's abbreviated name though).

The Negatives
  • The writing is horrible. The dialogue is choppy, stilted, and doesn't flow. Plus, the book is full of platitudes, which are devoid of lessons, but full of negativity. 
  • Outside of the terrible writing, another major complaint is the setting. I'm from Alabama and the gritty setting that Coles describes I just couldn't imagine. Don't get me wrong, there are some bad, rough places in AL; but that dirty, grungy that Coles was going for missed its mark.
  • As I stated above, I love A Different World, but Coles over-references it. He mentions it five to six times in the first three chapters alone.
  • The title is Tyler Johnson was Here, but who is or was Tyler Johnson? For that matter who is Marvin, Ivy, G-Mo, and Faith? There was nothing to tell us who Tyler was. Aside from Marvin declaring that Tyler "wasn't a thug," "was a good kid," "wanted things out of life", and was "more than a hashtag," what evidence does the reader have to the contrary because it's not within the text? 
  • All the characters were flat with no personality nor character development. It's like all of the characters were dropped into the story without any kind of backstory whatsoever.
  • The reader's first glance of Faith is at the party. Soon after, Marvin stops by her home unannounced and unacquainted, then boom! somewhere between all of his crying/grieving Marvin and Faith's relationship moves from stranger to acquaintance to friend to romantic rapidly. 
  • Gobs of pop culture references are scattered throughout the book.
  • Since Tupac's Thug Life album was the inspiration behind Angie Thomas', The Hate U Give, the reader naturally expects the book to contain Tupac references. However, TJWH doesn't have that connection to Tupac and I felt the numerous Tupac references was a rip-off of THUG; that along with the theme songs of popular, black sitcoms of the late 1980's and early 1990's as a bonding element between characters. 
  • My number one issue: Tyler pushes the police officer. Although Officer Meredith is harassing him, which is ethically, civically, and morally wrong, not to mention an abuse of power; Tyler still should have never put his hands on the officer.
Throughout my reading life, I've read some dark, depressing books, but none of them left me feeling utterly hopeless at the conclusion as this book. Tyler Johnson Was Here could have been much better than what it is, which is a pittance of what it could have been. However Coles was so busy iterating and reiterating the ugliness of the boys' neighborhood and pitting races against each other that he failed to give me who Tyler was so that I could have grieved his death and celebrated the life he lived. Although there will be teens who'll enjoy this book, I, in good faith, cannot recommend it.

Note: Principal Dodson's self-hate and prejudice reminded me of the prejudice Black cop from the movie, Boyz N the Hood. (PSA: The clip contains profanity).

Favorite Quotes:
"Life is about wading in the rain, in all the storm's fury, holding on to hope, and also about becoming one and the same with the stormgetting angry, getting heated, and being the change you want."

"[...] the thing about hate is you can't throw it on someone else without getting a little bit on yourself."

Complimentary e-galley provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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