I Am Alfonso Jones
I Am Alfonso Jones, a new graphic novel by Tony Medina with art by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, tells a tragic story as old as Shakespeare. Alfonso Jones, a spirited teenager full of potential, is the victim of a senseless shooting. As his family and friends struggle with the grief of their loss and fight to bring the killer to justice, young Alfonso watches them from the afterlife, surrounded by the ghosts of similar tragedies whose stories tie Alfonso’s murder to a pattern of violence that extends back into history.
Need it be said that Jones and his family are black and his killer is a white policeman? Because this is America in 2017 (or 1917, or 1817…), that simple detail is enough to shatter the universality of the tragedy and make it necessary for some people to twist the narrative into one where the killer was just doing his job and the young victim, through some hidden flaw in his character or error in behavior, must have had it coming. And that is where the other story in I Am Alfonso Jones begins.
Medina saves some of his most trenchant observations for the social climate that routinely forms around racially-charged police killings. The book includes several scenes where the media distorts the narrative of Alfonso’s death, digging high and low for evidence to support the misunderstood cop while defaming the “troubled” black teen who couldn’t possibly be as squeaky-clean and innocent as he appears.
We also get a look into the culture that produced the killer: the closed social caste of white law enforcement, with its proud family traditions, insular neighborhoods far removed from the communities that feel the impact of heavy policing, and sense of grievance over being blamed for doing the bidding of an economic elite that doesn’t want to get its own hands dirty enforcing racial barriers.
If this sounds like the makings of an angry book, well, it is. But Medina’s nuance with the characters, Robinson and Jennings’ free-flowing and accessible artwork, plus the plot device of having Alfonso’s ghost watching over the proceedings while his high school class mounts a hip-hop version of Hamlet, balances out the mood and infuses the otherwise grim narrative with a sense of hope and resilience.
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The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Teen Librarian Toolbox, School Library Journal
YA Books Central
Gene Luen Yang, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and author of AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and BOXERS AND SAINTS
LeVar Burton, Actor, Director, Author, and Reading Activist
Daniel José Older, author of SHADOWSHAPER and SHADOWHOUSE FALL
Randy DuBurke, illustrator of YUMMY: THE LAST DAYS OF A SOUTHSIDE SHORTY
Ibi Zoboi, author of AMERICAN STREET
Katheryn Russell-Brown, University of Florida Law professor, Director, UF Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, and author of LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONE
Frederick Luis Aldama, author of LONG STORIES CUT SHORT: FICTIONS FROM THE BORDERLANDS and LATINX SUPERHEROES IN MAINSTREAM COMICS
Tanita Davis, author of PEAS AND CARROTS and MARE'S WAR
Allie Jane Bruce, Children's Librarian, Bank Street College and co-founder of Reading While White