Critically Acclaimed Novels Help Young Adults Explore Race and Police Brutality

The rise of police violence against Black and Hispanic teenagers is alarming. Authors Ronnie Sidney, II, Monique Morris, Angie Thomas, and Jason Reynolds seek to confront police brutality by providing well-written and exciting stories for young adult readers.


15-year-old Jordan Edwards is one of the latest victims of systematic racism and police brutality in America. Edwards, who was described as a “loving child with a humble and sharing spirit,” was a straight-A student and standout athlete at Mesquite High School. On Saturday, April 29, 2017, Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver arrived at a party after gunfire eruptd. As Edwards and his brothers were attempting to leave the party, Oliver fired an AR-15 into the car, fatally shooting Edwards in the head.

Officer Oliver initially reported the driver of the vehicle attempted to run him over, but his body camera footage contradicted his original statement. The Balch Springs police officer was later fired and charged with murdering the 15-year-old African-American teen.

According to Shaun King, there were three different unarmed 15-year-old black boys shot and killed by law enforcement officers in the month of May.


15-year-old Jayson Negron was shot and killed by a Bridgeport, Connecticut police officer on May 9, 2017. The officer claimed Negron ran over him and pinned him “beneath the car”. Authorities initially communicated that Negron died from a single gunshot to the head, but the following day the police chief admitted the story had been fabricated. Negron, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, bled to death after being shot in the torso. A video filmed by someone on the scene shows Jayson alive, on the ground fighting for his life after being shot.

On Saturday, May 27, 2017, a 15-year-old African-American boy named Darius Smith was shot and killed by an off-duty U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agent. The off-duty officer reported Smith and two other teens attempted to rob him at gun point. Attorney Lee Merritt found several inconsistencies after checking the story out first hand:
  1. Darius was executed. He was shot three times in the chest and twice in the legs (from the back as if he was running away).
  2. Charvis was shot in the hand and buttocks (running wounds as well)
  3. Despite multiple shots from the killer, not one shot was fired from the gun allegedly carried by these boys (the reports are a toy gun was found near the scene) While he was emptying his clip they appeared to be running for their lives.
  4. The so called robbery would have been taking place on one of the busiest stretches of highway in the region at 8PM (suns still shining) by boys who have to my knowledge never robbed anyone before.I have questions. We demand justice.
Black and Hispanic boys aren’t the only teenagers impacted by police brutality and systemic racism, Black girls are increasingly being criminalized in schools and communities. According to Monique Morris, author of Pushout, young African American women make up roughly 16 percent of girls enrolled in school but make up 33 percent of girls with school-related arrests.


16-year-old Dajerria Becton and her legal guardian filed a federal complaint in January that alleges Eric Casebolt violated her constitutional rights by using excessive force. Casebolt, a former McKinney, Texas police officer, is captured on a Jun 6, 2015 video posted to YouTube, yelling obscenities, unholstering his service weapon, and then grabbing Becton and repeatedly slamming her face on the ground. The former McKinney police officer is also aggressively straddles the 16-year-old girl’s back while forcefully shoving his knees into her neck and back.

Another video captured on January 4, 2017, shows Ruben De Los Santos, a school resource officer (SRO), picking up and slamming a Rolesville high school student to the ground. The teen’s mother believes the officer’s use of excessive force caused her daughter to suffer from a concussion. The teen was attempting to defend her sister and break up a fight before being thrown to the ground by De Los Santos. A Wake County grand jury declined to endorse charges against the former Rolesville High School resource officer.

The rise of criminalization and violence against Black and Hispanic teenagers by law enforcement officers is alarming. Dismantling systemic racism is a daunting task, but it’s not impossible. The impetus for change is having courageous conversations with young people about race and policing. Conversations about race and policing can feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and awkward. Parents, teachers, and librarians have embraced young adult (YA) literature that addresses police violence and social injustice.

Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSW is one of several emerging young adult authors whose books confront systematic racism, police brutality, and police-involved shootings. Sidney, author of Rest in Peace RaShawn, believes conversations about race need to be had at the dining room table. “Parents need to start talking with their children about racism and police brutality because teens are being exposed to it on social media every day,” says Sidney.


Rest in Peace RaShawn includes discussion points on how to heal the legacy of distrust between African- American communities and law enforcement officers. During the summer of 2016, Sidney met with a diverse group of young men at a Virginia academy, asking them to answer the following questions:

What is it like to be Black or Hispanic today?

What is it like to be Black or Hispanic today?What solutions do you think will bridge the divide between communities of color and the criminal justice system?

What are your opinions on the recent officer-involved shootings?

The answers to those questions are littered throughout Rest in Peace RaShawn and give a real voice to a fictional story.

Authors Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSWAngie ThomasJason Reynolds, and Monique W. Morris provide well-written and exciting stories for young adult readers that explore race and policing. This new crop of YA novels use fiction to address police brutality and police shootings of unarmed Black teenagers. I have listed titles parents, teachers, librarians, and counselors can use to explore systematic racism and police brutality with teenagers.

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Rest in Peace RaShawn by Ronnie Sidney, LCSW

Rest in Peace RaShawn is more than the story of an accidental shooting. It’s the vivid story of a young man’s life snuffed out too soon by police bullets – a narrative that, sadly, has become all too familiar in America. The author, Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, captures the emotional upheaval suffered by families and communities nationwide following the sudden, violent demise of black men. He presents the violence and suffering in a sensitive, easy-to-understand and age-appropriate format for kids.

This book is a good way to broach the painful but necessary conversations families across the nation are having with their children, and provides thoughtful discussion points on how to heal the legacy of distrust between African- American communities and the police who are supposed to protect them.

Rest in Peace RaShawn completes a trinity of quality young adult literature by Sidney, including the first books in his series, Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. All three inspire confidence in children, especially children of color, and encourage a fondness for reading and a heightened level of social awareness; Sidney’s stories equip kids with a broader understanding of America’s current culture and climate.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”


All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily

“A 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, and recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature.

In this Coretta Scott King Honor Award–winning novel, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this four-starred reviews tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.”


Pushout by Monique M. Morris

“Fifteen-year-old Diamond stopped going to school the day she was expelled for lashing out at peers who constantly harassed and teased her for something everyone on the staff had missed: she was being trafficked for sex. After months on the run, she was arrested and sent to a detention center for violating a court order to attend school.

Just 16 percent of female students, Black girls make up more than one-third of all girls with a school-related arrest. The first trade book to tell these untold stories, Pushout exposes a world of confined potential and supports the growing movement to address the policies, practices, and cultural illiteracy that push countless students out of school and into unhealthy, unstable, and often unsafe futures.

For four years Monique W. Morris, author of Black Stats, chronicled the experiences of black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged—by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris shows how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.”

Other notable books that confront the epidemic of police violence include the following:

  • ‘Tyler Johnson Was Here,’ by Jay Coles
  • ‘Dear Martin,’ by Nic Stone
  • ‘I Am Alfonso Jones,’ Written by Tony Medina and Illustrated by John Jennings and Stacey Robinson
  • ‘Ghost Boys,’ by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • ‘How It Went Down,’ by Kekla Magoon
  • ‘Between the World and Me,’ Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • ‘They Can’t Kill Us All,’ Wesley Lowery

About Us: Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC is a company started by Ronnie Sidney, II, LCSW. The  company has published four books, Nelson Beats The OddsTameka’s New Dress, Rest in Peace RaShawn, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One. The companies founder is a father, therapist, app developer , philanthropist and literary activist. Sidney helped develop a free mobile app, “Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator”, which allows users to add their face to the illustrations, create photo collages with accessories like a cap and gown, and share their own stories. For inquiries email us at or visit

Author: Ronnie Sidney II, MSW

Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW, is a father, therapist, author, app developer, professional speaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He received a Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2014. Ronnie was raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, and attended Essex County Public Schools (ECPS). While attending ECPS, he spent several years in Special Education after being diagnosed with a learning disability. The stigmatization of special education created a lack of interest in school. With limited options regarding four-year colleges, he decided to enroll in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia. The following year, he transferred to Old Dominion University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services in 2006. Sidney has since published two books, "Nelson Beats the Odds" and "Tameka's New Dress". He also developed the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator.

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