The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.
The Plot: Everything has been different since Matt's mom died. It's his senior year of high school, but her loss makes him feel like a stranger. His father isn't coping.
Matt's done well in school, so he has half-days. He was supposed to do a work-study program, but, well, with his mom dying he wasn't in school so he lost his place. Still, he needs a job to fill up his time and to earn money to help his dad out.
At first when his neighbor Mr. Ray offers a job in his funeral home, Matt thinks "no way." He finds a strange sort of comfort in seeing the sorrow of others. Then he meets Lovey, who has lost her mother and now her grandmother, and it makes him rethink how he's been living, and how he's been grieving.
The Good: What is so frustrating about The Boy in the Black Suit is it sounds like a dead parent book. And, I guess, it is. Matt's mom has just died, and he that loss, her loss, is shattering, and part of this book is how he lives through that. But it's so much more than that, including funny and romantic.
Matt is an only child, and his parents were very much still in love, and his father takes his wife's loss badly. He starts drinking and ends up in the hospital, leaving Matt alone. Matt isn't really alone: there is his best friend, Chris, who proves to be a good friend by not treating Matt any different. And there is Mr. Ray, who Matt thought of as the old guy neighbor and who now becomes a mentor. And then there is Lovey....
I don't want to say Matt is happy when he sees others cry and break at a loved one's funeral. Instead, it makes him feel less alone in his own loss. It's cathartic. And Mr. Ray understands; he's had his own losses. Matt's dad and Mr. Ray show Matt ways of grieving, and then Lovey shows him another -- a way that mourns while celebrating. Matt falls for Lovey, but also sees another way forward.
Also good: The Boy in the Black Suit is set in Brooklyn, and there's a mix of people, from Matt's family and their brownstone to Chris's family in an apartment building. Matt describes his family as "I went from a not-so-fancy version of the Cosbys to a one-man family." Chris is being raised by a single mother; Lovey, by her grandmother. It's a variety of people and backgrounds, all in one same neighborhood.
Chris's mother is dead before the book begins, but her spirit and love is on every page. One thing his mom had done (even before she knew she had cancer) was to create a notebook of recipes, which she called "The Secret of Getting Girls, for Matty." It's partly a family joke, that girls like guys who cook. And it's partly her love for her son. And it's partly her saying Matty, yes, you need to know how to cook, for you. This notebook is lurking around, and part of the sweetness of this book is how Matt moves from living off fast food and take out, even though he knows how to cook and his this book, to being able to open the notebook without his heart breaking.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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