GHOST BOYS written by award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes is a powerful historical novel for middle grade readers about the tragic death of an African American twelve-year old by the name of Jerome. He is shot and killed by a policeman who says he thought the boy’s toy gun was real.
The story is told in the first person by Jerome’s ghost. It tells the reader how Jerome, a model student, son and grandson, happened to have a toy gun. The story also imagines how the daughter of the policeman who did the shooting is feeling. Brilliantly the author brings these two characters together in the courtroom where Jerome’s ghost is watching the preliminary hearing as is Sarah. She has a gift that enables her to see him, even though he is dead.
Jerome’s ghost spends time with her and they both meet the sixty-year old ghost of another slain boy Emmet Till. The conversations are full of bewilderment, hurt, anger and love. Jerome’s ghost wants to move on and get away from his family’s pain, Sarah wants to understand her father’s role and the ghost of Emmett Till wants to help them handle the realities of racism.
The act of bearing witness is important to the author. She says in the book’s Afterword: “I do believe that as a living person, I am obliged to honor and speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves.”
GHOST BOYS written beautifully by Jewell Parker Rhodes is an important novel for readers 10 years of age and up and their parents and teachers (Little Brown and Company, 2018).
Questions and activities for GHOST BOYS
Author Jewell Parker Rhodes says in the Afterword, “Through discussion, awareness and societal and civic action, I hope our youth will be able to dismantle personal and systemic racism.” How do you think GHOST BOYS can help this conversation? What specific chapters and passages informed you? Are you acquainted with the shooting of Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio? If not, please look online for the accounts of the shooting and the preliminary hearing. Discuss your findings with a teacher or parent.
Study Ghost boy’s final comment in the Chapter entitled Last Words. What is the message? How does Sarah in the Chapter entitled Silence bear witness?
The chapter entitled Day of the Dead gives an account of how Jerome’s family celebrates All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day and how the family of his friend Carlos celebrate The Day of the Dead. Why is a belief in these celebrations important to the structure and the message of this book? Who are the angelitos? Study the author’s notes on this in the Afterword. Draw a picture of the two families celebrating together.