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Friday, January 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1706- Tony Medina (writer), Stacey Robinson and John Jennings (illustrators): I Am Alfonso Jones

I had a few reservations heading into Tony Medina's I Am Alfonso Jones, mostly on my ability to talk about it after. A few misconceptions going in: 1. this was aimed at American black teens 2. it would be overly didactic. If number 1 was true, would I, a white, middle-aged man in Canada be able to review it? I took some solace in the fact that I try not to be too much of a reviewer anyway, but rather focus most of my time simply thinking aloud about my own personal reactions to a book in the (unrequited) hope that someone might what to share their own thoughts and discuss. If number 2 was true, well, again related to my privilege, I shouldn't judge how didactic someone from another race, another culture feels they should be. I enjoyed Netflix's Luke Cage, for instance, but at first felt the messages were heavy handed. Then, I considered the possibility that for some peoples it isn't exactly  the time for subtlety. Again, not my place to decide. All that in mind, I'm glad I chose to carry on.

Yes, I Am Alfonso Jones may be aimed at American black teens, but probably not just at them and there's something others, including myself can take away. Just the story alone is engaging; of a teenage boy who is murdered by a police officer and finds himself of a subway of souls who are to travel forever, or at least until there has been justice. It's also creatively told, with flashbacks, multiple perspectives, and a subplot about a hip hop version of Hamlet. (Had I remembered Hamlet a little better, I think would have aided in my enjoyment in that aspect.) And the art is great, with fluid lines, a 70s sort of style (Will Eisner-ish), and black shading. More importantly though, messages about racial biases and inequality, abuses of power, etc were not lost on even me who has never lived in an area with a large population of black people. I have, however, lived in populations with a large number of indigenous people and they too have, unfortunately, often met with the same fate at the hands of the police.

And, I didn't feel it overly didactic. I did learn a lot of history but perhaps owing to creative storytelling, it felt natural and unforced. It's also a fair book that, while it certainly takes a stand for justice, nonetheless explores all the complexities without selling easy, unrealistic fixes.

I Am Alfonso Jones will stick with me for some time.

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