Jay Coles’ powerful, anguished debut novel, Tyler Johnson Was Here, inspired by so many tragic headlines, is already garnering worthy comparisons to 2017’s award-winning The Hate U Give. Of particular interest is the fact that Coles is a 22-year-old recent college graduate, composer and professional musician whose writing was inspired by the police brutality experienced by his family and community.
The story centers on twin brothers Tyler and Marvin. While a college recruiter from MIT courts Marvin, Tyler gets involved with “a legit thug” in their neighborhood in Sterling Point, Alabama. When the boys attend a warehouse party that’s raided by police, they lose track of each other in the ensuing chaos. One of the officers shoots Tyler, and a video surfaces that shows the unarmed teen saying, “Leave me alone. I’m just going home.”
Marvin is left to grapple with grief, guilt, hate, anger, the legal process and the fight for justice. What this novel may lack in nuance, it makes up in heart, soul and ambition, providing an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the kinds of murders and tragedies fueling the Black Lives Matter movement.
Teen readers will be left with much to contemplate and with no easy answers. As Marvin concludes, “This is only the beginning of a long fight. It’s my turn to speak up and resist.”