I've been looking forward to reading Promise Boys since I got a digital ARC at YALLFest last year, but I've been struggling to pick up non-audiobook books lately because life has been CRAZY. Enter NetGalley to the rescue (or so I thought) with an audiobook ARC. I finally got to read it!
Promise Boys is a YA murder mystery that follows three high school students, all accused of the murder of their domineering principal. The Urban Promise Prep School prides itself on its reputation of "turning boys into men." Urban Promise Prep takes "disadvantaged" (read: POC) boys in and sets them up for a positive future full of opportunity and growth. On paper, helping boys find easier access to colleges, jobs, or training programs sounds great, if Urban Promise Prep wasn't a militant institution set on breaking the student body's spirit. At this all boys' school (I'm using the term "school" loosely here as it's more like a prison), boys attend classes from 7am to 5pm every weekday, where the boys are all but expected to be drones: there's no talking in the hallway (keep your eyes ahead, your feet on the blue tile line, and your hands clasped behind your back always), no socializing at lunch, and demerits and detention are handed out like Halloween candy. Much of the administrative staff have white savior complexes, and feel that it is their duty to metaphorically beat these boys into submission so that they might have a bright future, which they will naturally owe to Urban Promise Prep and not their own hard work (/sarcasm).
Everything at Urban Promise Prep comes to a screeching halt when their principal, Kenneth Moore, is shot to death in his office during a basketball game. Of course, J.B., Trey, and Ramón, the three boys who'd had run-ins with Principal Moore that day, are instantly suspects. They're carted in by the police, interrogated, and banned from school property pending the investigation.
What follows is a gripping display of how young men of color are guilty until proven innocent, how those in positions of power actively work against these boys while maintaining a facade of "helping," and the terror that young Black and Latinx men and their families deal with daily, especially when dealing with law enforcement and accusations made against them. For example, Trey is always deemed "trouble--destined for gang life and prison" by those in power because he, a star athlete, has the personality of a class clown. What in the world? One teacher, one teacher, has the spine to stand up for the boys, but only does so in the quiet, behind closed doors. Not out in the open. Why? How could people who spend 10+ hours a day with boys like J.B., Trey, and Ramón not see J.B.'s poetic nature and drive to provide for himself and his mom, Trey's athletic abilities and his struggles with absent parents while trying to keep his head above water, and Ramón's entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity? How do these adults not see all of these things, want to protect them at all costs? Then you have the donors--more white saviors with deep pockets who think that their donations to Urban Promise Prep suddenly make their rampant racism disappear.
I was quite literally on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened at each turn, and was so enamored by J.B., Trey, and Ramón's personalities and experiences, and the loyalty they ultimately show to one another and to justice for ALL. Even the side characters like Keyana, Luis, and Magda show the kind of loyalty that you would want in your closest friends, and that can be so rare. I truly loved feeling like a part of this group's story.
My only complaint about Promise Boys is that there was such a long and compelling buildup that the ending felt a bit abrupt. I kept looking at my Kindle's "x minutes left in book" and couldn't figure out how there could possibly be enough time to wrap everything. Nick Brooks does actually close up the story well, I just wish it wasn't so fast.
In terms of the audiobook, it featured a full cast of characters which was new and unique for me, as well as musical accompaniment and sound design. While this was definitely cool, I did find it very distracting as I tend to listen to audiobooks at 1.75-2x speed, which made the background sounds a bit chaotic. For those that listen at 1x speed, though, I think these were probably fun to experience. Unfortunately, my audiobook file ended abruptly at the end of chapter 22, so I wasn't able to finish the full audiobook as planned.
Nick Brooks is a name to watch, y'all. I can't say enough good things about this book. It was moving, eye opening, and inspiring all at once, and I can't wait to see what else comes from this author. Promise Boys is out now. You can order your copy here!
Love and Ramón's pupusas,
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley for free and have voluntarily written this review with my honest feedback. If you purchase a copy using my Amazon affiliate link above, I will receive a small commission which I will use to justify my literary addictions and to spoil my dogs (probably).