#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: The Boy In The Black Suit

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:

boy in the black suit

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:














19 thoughts on “#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: The Boy In The Black Suit

  1. This sounds like a very amazing story. Just when you think, what could an author write about that hasn’t already been done, another amazing book appears. Grief is such a universal experience, yet one that we so seldom talk about. How wonderful that teenagers have someone to read who understands that.

  2. I love Jason Reynolds!!! He’s definitely one of my new favorite authors. THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT was the first book I read by him. A couple of weeks ago, I got to hear him speak with Brendan Kiely, about ALL AMERICAN BOYS. They were incredible. And then I had to read GHOST, which I also totally loved, and which is shorter, but definitely an appropriate middle school book. Next in my stack is AS BRAVE AS YOU ARE.

  3. I am a fan of Jason Reynolds. He has so many books out now. He has a talent for getting into the soul of his characters. Thanks for letting me know about this one.

  4. I do like Jason Reynolds and based on this review, I am going to read the book. I’ve read Ghost and also All American Boys (which I loved). So many kids have experienced grief in one way or another and often have no one to talk with. A book such as this is very important for our teens. Thanks for sharing such a detailed review.

  5. It was the first Jason Reynolds I read, and I loved handing it to my students. Finding ways to help students know what it’s like to lose someone dear was something I thought important when I offered books. Matt was such a sympathetic character, and the life lessons from Mr. Ray were great, as you shared. Thanks for reminding me about this book, Tara.

  6. I am so very thankful to talented authors like Jason Reynolds who are willing and able to tackle tough but real issues like death, grief and loss with such honesty, sensitivity and respect. Such a gift to us and the young people we interact with.

  7. The Boy In The Black Suit is the book that turned me into a Jason Reynolds fan. I just adore him and his characters. Matt continues to be one of my favourites of his.

  8. Oh wow, I’ve been reading so many great things about this novel, really appreciate your very thoughtful and reflective pieces about books that move you, dearest Tara.

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