The Boy in the Black Suit is the sophomore novel from author Jason Reynolds. Reynolds graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in English, then moved to Brooklyn, New York, the setting for both of his novels: The Boy in the Black Suit and When I Was The Greatest. When I Was The Greatest was published in January 2014, and not long after, Reynolds announced his newest novel, The Boy in the Black Suit, set for publication in January 2015. From the beginning, Reynolds’ second novel’s theme shows to be a very family-enriched tale.
The book focuses on narrator Matt Miller, a seventeen year-old African-American high school student in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Prior to his senior year, Matt lost his mother, Daisy, to breast cancer. Matt misses her presence and the fun times they had cooking in their kitchen. He wears a black suit for his job at the local funeral parlor, owned by his neighbor, Willie Ray. Fortunately for Matt, the pay is higher than what he would earn at the Cluck Bucket, the local food spot. He needs the income since his dad, Jackson, is unemployed. Over time, Matt gains a strange love for sitting in on the funerals at his work; the sight of others suffering over their losses comforts him in his own grief.
When his father is hit by a car and severely injured, Matt is left alone to fend for himself while his dad is recovering in rehabilitation. Mr. Ray insists on taking care of him while he’s alone, and although he’s all right on his own, Matt could use all the help he can get.
During this time, Mr. Ray teaches Matt about time and consequence, documenting his own experiences to help elaborate— specifically while the two are playing a board game: “See, in chess, you plan everything. You strategize and all that. And even though we like to believe life goes that way, let me tell you, son, it don’t . . . But in this game here, I DEE-clare War, is how life really goes down . . . Sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose . . . And sometimes, 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 the cards to keep turning, you’re fine. Now that’s life.”
Matt thinks he’s been through a lot until he meets Love. Despite the strange name, Matt is drawn to the young woman, like he is to the funerals, by her beckoning emotional strength. A daunting connection between the two initiates a journey to the story’s enthralling conclusion.
I really enjoyed The Boy in the Black Suit. The novel floats on Matt’s conversational tone, which is comical in its respects, but also serious when needed. The voice is crisp and clear, and Reynolds uses an upbeat vitality to drive the story along. It’s a fun, quick-moving read that lends poetic description to a reality some know all too well. Jason Reynolds is able to take a normal story that follows a young man in his evolving lifestyle and implement some thought-provoking concepts about family, loss and love.