Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
Goodreads Summary: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean
TW: Racism, Police Brutality, Death of a Family Member/Sibling, Grief
“I tell myself that I love this skin, that I’ve always loved my blackness, that if the world doesn’t love me, I will love myself for the both of us.”
OKAY, THIS IS NEARLY 5 STARS IF IT WASN’T FOR THE WEIRD PACING.
Although my rating may not reflect it, this was the best depiction of police brutality, the black lives matter movement, and racism.
This book made me tear up literally 4x
BLACK LOVE. Don’t get me wrong, I love interracial relationships (I’m mixed myself), but I HARDLY SEE BLACK LOVE AND IM DIGGING IT. God this book was just so pro black 😭😭✊🏿Also, being black in a predominantly white setting is relatable. I love that it talked about not wanting to be a “token.”THE FRIENDSHIPS IS JUST SO PRECIOUS
My only gripe with this book is the weird pacing. According to the synopsis, we know that a police officer shoots Marvin’s twin brother, Tyler without any cause. However, we actually didn’t get to that point until about 50-60% of the book so for about half of the book, Marvin is worried the whereabouts of his brother, but we know that he’s dead. I don’t know if this was a creative decision by the author but I just thought it was awkward and kind of made the book slower paced than it needed to be.
Marvin was just the best. Although he’s passionate about academics and his future, he recognizes the importance of caring for the ones he loves. His strong bond with his brother is so sensible, and his worries about his brother make the audience worried as well. He also cares for the well-being of his friends, his mother and even his crude principal who constantly puts him down. However, don’t think he is incapable of standing up for himself because he does that several times throughout the book. Marvin overall is just an extremely compassionate character and one I won’t forget.
I would also like to mention the diverse set of side characters. We have POC and queer side character that are naturally included. We even get a glimpse of the hardships that different marginalized groups have to endure, including deportation.
There’s also huge importance of friendships. Marvin and his friend group were just so precious and healthy. You know when a tragic event happens to a character, and he withdraws himself from their friends, but the friends get all butthurt, so the character apologizes? Guess what, it’s non-existent in this book. The friends are understanding empathetic. They still care for Marvin even though he slips away from them. Marvin also acknowledges his behavior which again demonstrates just how selfless he is.
No relationship drama and no friend drama…this book is underrated.
One thing I find iffy about these types a book that explicitly is about a social issue is the incorporation of romance. For some reason, I just find them unnecessary and never really fully developed. However, I adored the relationship between Marvin and Faith. It felt authentic and not really just added for kicks. Also, this is an all black romance! Now, I know that you may be wondering, “but Q, interracial is amazing, right? You’re biracial yourself!” Yes, I understand it’s importance since our westernized society is mixing, even more, these days and overall just promotes inclusion. I love reading about interracial relationships, especially when both persons are POC (Let’s Talk About Love!). However, I rarely see a black/black romance in ANY YA novel, so this was just a breath of fresh air! The way Marvin treats describes respects faith is just beautiful. Black people loving other black people is so meaningful, and I want to read more of these types of relationships. Also a YA book without the miscommunication trope?!?!?!?!
Race, College, Police Brutality
“Who gets to be free?
Is someone free when they don’t have to think about the way people look at them or treat them because of the color of their skin? Is someone free when they don’t have to spend time on this earth with people who have hearts made of hate? Or is someone only really free when they’re no longer a part of this world?”
Like I said before, Marvin is ambitious when it comes to his life after college. He thinks he wants to go to MIT but questions if he’s the right fit. Okay, it’s no lie that when it comes to non-historically black colleges, the black population is significantly lower than other races (at least when it comes to Califonia universities). He questions his fit when a college recruiter repeatedly hints they only want Marvin not just because of his stellar grades and extracurriculars (both that fits the MIT build), but because of the color of his skin and even his “tragic” story. He feels uncomfortable when they imply that they think his brother getting shot was an “obstacle” he had to jump. Getting a shot by a person who is supposed to protect and serve the community is not an obstacle (
college admissions get off on tragedy porn). When it comes to affirmative action or other similar topics, think that people of color want a higher advantaged because of their race which is not true at all (I can talk about this topic forever). Marvin is a pivotal example of black people not wanting to become a token at a higher institution. Black people want the equity of treatment.
The book also addresses the opposition when it comes to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Marvin makes it clear the “All Lives Matter” is just a phrase to silence marginalized voices because the “all” means just white. Marvin makes it clear that, yes, not all police officers are bad, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the blatant superiority and racism that many of them do possess. Marvin makes it clear that it shouldn’t matter if his brother were a “thug” or a straight As student because no one deserves to die, especially black people. That’s why I said in my initial thoughts that I believe this to be one of the best books that talks about the Black Lives Matter movement because it debunks so many of the false narratives opposers tries to push.
There are so many other topics that are discussed in this book such as toxic masculinity, gang violence, representation in popular culture, and mass incrimination, but I don’t want this to be a 10-page review. I will just say if you read this book, you will fall in love with Marvin, the brilliant writing and I will guarantee that this book will stick with you. I also recommend the audiobook because there are some extras that you might enjoy!
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