The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of a writing community.
It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts
Yes, even though it’s the March Slice of Life Challenge and I am a writing maniac this month, I managed to read this fabulous book:
Jason Reynolds’ The Boy In The Black Suit is a brilliant book about coming to terms with death and grief. Matt Miller begins eleventh grade weighed down with sorrow: his mother, the rock of his young life, has just died, and his father seems to be drifting away in a grief cloud of his own. Unmoored and feeling very alone, Matt is at first conflicted when he is offered a part time job at the funeral home where his mother’s service had been held. Mr. Ray, its suave but kindly director takes Matt under his wing, stepping into the role of surrogate father when Matt’s own father stumbles into the street in a drunken stupor and is badly hurt.
At first, Matt is embarrassed about his new job and having to wear the black suit necessary for work to school every day. Matt is secretly drawn to funerals – some deep and unknown part of his soul seems to need to see how others grieve, how others cope with their grief, since he himself is struggling so much with it. Then he meets Lovey, who speaks at her grandmother’s funeral and seems to know the secret of how to handle grief and how to to be strong.
Reynolds does a beautiful job of writing this story from Matt’s perspective in such a real way: he misses his mother, he mourns the way his father seems to be falling apart, he appreciates the stability and support of Mr. Ray, and he enjoys strategizing about flirting with Lovey. He embodies all the deep feelings, confusions and contradictions of young adulthood. I especially loved the character of Mr. Ray – the embodiment of that one adult who can make a difference at a crucial time in a young person’s life. At one point early in the book, Mr. Ray senses that Matt is lost and searching for answers to his loss: why his mother? why now? how to keep going on? Mr. Ray compares life to the card game ‘I Declare War’: “I can lose and lose and lose and I don’t know why. But there’s nothing I can do but just keep flipping the cards. Eventually, I’ll win again. As long as you got cards to keep turning, you’re fine. Now, that’s life.”
This is definitely a book for 8th. grade and up – Matt is in high school, and some of the language and references in the story reflects that. It is a hopeful story, one of the resilience of youth, and the healing power of community and love.
Here’s the author speaking about The Boy in the Black Suit: