All American Boys is a deceptively simple title, and in choosing it, the authors invite the reader to consider the meaning. There is a difference between the hyphenated adjective “all-American” and the indefinite pronoun “all” plus the adjective “American.” The former evokes traditional images of hot dogs and apple pie, while the latter implies inclusivity. For most of the novel, there is a distinct lack of inclusivity in Rashad and Quinn’s world, and the main conflict of the book involves how they navigate racism in the aftermath of Rashad’s brutal attack at the hands of a white police officer.

The authors highlight the disparities between the two protagonists by alternating between them as first-person narrators. Just like the authors themselves, one narrator is Black and one is white. The story begins with Rashad’s perspective of his false accusation and subsequent attack at the hands of Paul Galluzzo, ensuring that there is no doubt about Rashad’s innocence. As a witness to Rashad’s beating, Quinn is an unreliable narrator because he views it through the lens of his preconceived notions about justice. Like Rashad’s father, Quinn cannot imagine a situation where Rashad did not somehow provoke the cop. However, as Quinn becomes more honest with himself over the course of the novel, his narration becomes more reliable.

On Rashad’s first day in the hospital, he begins to process what happened to him and observes the differing viewpoints of his family members. Rashad watches the case unspool in the local media as the action begins to rise. Things happen more quickly at school than they do at the hospital, so it is fitting that Quinn’s perspective takes precedence in the next chapters. Just as Quinn’s perspective on racism changes over time, the action builds up throughout the week as students fight about and declare their loyalty to Rashad or to the police, both in class and in the gym. Rashad’s friends bring him news of these developments when they come to visit. Spoony and Berry provide context for social media and insight into the world at large, where more and more people are learning about Rashad and planning to attend the upcoming protest. Meanwhile, Rashad steps out of the action and navigates the tiny world of the hospital, where he meets Clarissa, Mrs. Fitzgerald, and Katie Lansing. He also processes his emotions via his artwork, and sees a new side of his mother, both of which are things that require relative quiet away from the media storm.

The action is at its peak when Rashad comes home on Thursday. By this time, his story is trending on social media and it is clear that the protest is moving ahead and garnering support. His friends are there to share the news with him and to prepare for the protest on Friday. Rashad is still at the center of the action, and things continue to happen because of him even though he is cocooned in a safe place with people who care for him. This sense of safety is important because it allows Rashad to step outside of that cocoon and join an unknown group of people at the protest against his racist treatment, even though he is fearful and nervous about what he will encounter.

Friday’s protest serves as the climax of the book. The authors devote three chapters to the protest to depict it from Rashad and Quinn’s points of view and to show how they have both navigated the racism in their community. By this point in the story, it is clear that the two boys are more alike than they are different, and in the shared chapter, it is important to Quinn that Rashad sees him because he has finally seen past the stereotypes surrounding Rashad. By fighting back against Paul, Guzzo, and his teammates and joining in the protest, Quinn has defied the stereotype of a privileged white young man. As the action comes to an end, it is clear that neither boy conforms to the all-American stereotype, but they are all American nonetheless.