by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Poignant and heartbreaking yet warm and hopeful, The Boy in the Black Suit is a story of one boy's struggle to understand the meaning of life and let go the grief of his beloved mother's untimely death. Seventeen year old Matthew (Matt) Miller just wants life to be normal again and have people treat him like everything is normal. After his mother's funeral, the kids at school ignore him, their eyes downcast when he walks by, or worse, they whisper about him. He knows he makes them uncomfortable, but he just wants someone to say "hello." Trying to keep busy and act normal, Matt decides to get a job after school.
While filling out an application at the local fast food chicken shack, Cluck Bucket, Matt runs into Mr. Ray, the local mortician. Mr. Ray offers Matt a job in the funeral home. He promises Matt won't have to touch dead people. Mostly Matt will set up chairs and flowers, clean up, and generally help out. The pay is good, so Matt takes the job. Matt's best friend Chris comes around and they have a few words about Matt's mom, clearing the air and taking away the awkward silence. Chris tells Matt he saw his father outside the local bar getting really wasted with neighborhood no-goodnik and drunkard Robbie Ray.
Matt's worst suspicions come true. His father has hit the bottle after over 20 years sober. Instead of reaching out for his son or even trying to strengthen the family bond, his weak father continues to fuel his grief with alcohol. One night, Matt's father is hit by a car and has to spend time in the hospital and in the rehabilitation hospital. Trying to keep it normal, Matt keeps going to school and helping at the parlor. One day, Matt sees a funeral speech given by a young girl. In her speech to her grandma, Love is brave and strong. Matt is moved by the beauty of it and by the girl's conviction. He wants to know what she knows; he wants to be as strong as she is. So he stays after the funeral, hoping to meet the girl--he's seen her before, running the counter at Cluck Bucket.
When Matt meets Love, all is right with the world. First love (pun, intended) is always special and it's no different for Matt. He's smitten instantly and walks on air. He even appreciates Chris's good natured ribbing about his "girlfriend." Love introduces Matt to a world he's never even thought about, a world that he's happy to be a part of again.
Author Jason Reynolds gets it right. This feels like a book about a teen growing up in the streets of New York. The dialog is true and spot on. Matt's relationships with Love and Chris and with elders Mr. Ray, the Candy Man and his father also ring true.
Highly, highly recommended for grade 7-up. Some mature content: alcoholism, death, murder, violence, drug use by minor characters. Some mild profanity.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the arc from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.
This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)