Jewell Parker Rhodes, “Ghost Boys”

By: Charlie Botts

Ghost Boys is a short fictional novel by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Rhodes is a New York Times Best Selling Author of many books, Ghost Boys being among them. The driving force behind all of Jewell’s work is “to inspire social justice, equity, and environmental stewardship” (Rhodes). She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Carnegie-Mellon University, the university she is now an alumni of. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Drama Criticism, a Master of Arts in English, and a Doctor of Arts in English from Carnegie Mellon University. Additionally, she was raised in Pittsburgh and now lives in Seattle Washington. 

The fictional novel Ghost Boys follows a young boy, Jerome Rogers, and is written in his voice. The story opens with Jerome Rogers, a twelve year old black boy, being shot and killed by a white police officer. The scene is intense, painful to read, and causes a deep discomfort for the reader. However, directly afterward, the scene that is displayed, is one that is much more tame and easy to handle. Jerome is sitting at the kitchen table with his mother, whom he calls “Ma”, Grandma, and his younger sister, Kim Rogers. The mundanity of this scene is so jarring because in the previous scene, the reader witnessed the protagonist be murdered by a grown man. That scene juxtaposed with the same protagonist sitting and eating breakfast with his family creates such a strong contrast between the two. 

The book follows this pattern of switching back and forth between chapters that are either titled “Alive” or “Dead”. 

In the chapters that are titled “Alive”, the readers witness the days leading up to the day that Jerome is killed, starting in the morning with his family, and then traveling back and forth between school. During these chapters, the reader learns details about Jerome that seem mundane and normal. For example: he makes a friend with the new kid at school, he is unpopular and is bullied at school, etc. This provides some insight into why this book is banned. The narrative surrounding victims of police brutality, particularly those victims who are black or other people of color, often centers around the victim’s reputation. In order to explain why a police officer might murder someone, the victim’s reputation is picked apart, and simultaneously justifying the actions of the police officer. However, the mundanity of this story very clearly delegitimizes this narrative. Jerome is a normal school boy. He was never a hulking man who posed a threat to a grown man, he was a small boy, who ate his lunch in the school bathroom to hide from bullies. It demonstrates how any attempt to vindicate the actions of a grown man for killing a school boy, are horribly misguided and rooted in something more sinister. 

In the chapters titled “Dead”, the readers witness life after death through Jerome’s point of view. He in invisible to the world, except for the young daughter of the police officer responsible for his murder, Sara, and another ghost boy who Jerome doesn’t recognize. She is initially frightened by Jerome and the other ghost boy, but then the three begin to converse more openly and frequently. Sara hypothesizes that if somehow she can bring them some peace, that their souls might be able to rest. However, the boy reveals himself to be Emmett Till, a young man who was lynched by a horde of angry white men in 1955. Emmett then beckons the two others to look around them more carefully, and then both of them begin to see hundreds of thousands of ghost boys from across the years. This displays another reason that this book might be banned. The idea that white society should bear some responsibility for the system of policing that they created and uphold is foreign to them, and, as a result, deserves banning.