Promise Boys by Nick Brooks
Out Now from Henry Holt and Co. BYR; 304 pages
Content Warning: Murder, racism, depictions of violence, microaggressions, strong language, blood, gun usage, discussion of gang violence, discussion of drug use
About the Author: “Author and award-winning filmmaker, Nick Brooks hails from Washington, DC. He’s a 2020 graduate of the University of Southern California’s TV and Film Production program, earning both the prestigious George Lucas Scholar Award and the James Bridges and Jack Larson Award for Writing and Directing. In 2022 he published his first middle grade novel, NOTHING INTERESTING EVER HAPPENS TO ETHAN FAIRMONT, the first book in a three book series. His first YA novel, PROMISE BOYS debuted January 2023 and has already been deemed a much-anticipated read of 2023 by Buzzfeed, Seventeen and Forbes. Truly a multihyphenate, Nick writes and records hip hop under the moniker Ben Kenobe and is most noted for working with G.O.O.D Music artist, Tony Williams. He recently acted as lyricist for the rap film, THE CYPHER, executive produced by Ben Corey Jones. The film made its world premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Fest and was acquired by HBO. As a storyteller he strives to tell stories that are timely and timeless” (Bio from author’s website).
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Urban Promise Prep turns at-risk boys into college-bound young men. Though the school’s methods are harsh, Principal Moore is effective at changing the lives of his students. Then Principal Moore is murdered in his office. With police surrounding the school, suspicions turn to three students as Moore’s killer… or killers. J.B., Ramón, and Trey were all in the school during the murder; all had reasons for wanting Moore gone. The boys each swear their innocence, but emerging evidence and public opinion point to one of them. J.B., Ramón, and Trey now have two options: find Moore’s real killer or go to jail for a murder they did not commit.
Promise Boys is an enthralling murder mystery with storytelling unlike anything I’ve ever read. One of my favorite things about this YA debut is how the story is structured. While J.B., Ramón, and Trey are our leading men, the book features chapters from more than a dozen other characters reminiscent of testimonials or brief interviews in a documentary. Each of these segments–whether from family members, fellow students, or even an anonymous Nobody–adds to the questions and unreliability of the murder investigation. I cycled through almost ten different suspects before determining who I thought was the murderer (spoiler alert: I got it wrong). I also enjoyed the variety of POVs because it made the page time with J.B., Ramón, and Trey that much more engaging. We spend so much time hearing the speculations of the other characters, and their perspectives contrast well with the trio’s own chapters. J.B., Ramón, and Trey aren’t premeditated murderers; they’re just kids. They have their own backgrounds and goals in life. They deal with first love, familial disappointments, and the isolation of being written off by their peers and community. While J.B., Ramón, and Trey face serious allegations and the realities of racism, we also see the boys’ wonderfully positive and creative sides. J.B. is a soft-hearted writer/aspiring musician; Ramón loves cooking and has an entrepreneurial spirit; Trey is both a sports star and a natural comedian. The injustices in the book never fully take away the power that J.B., Ramón, and Trey possess, which I really loved. The way the boys speak and relate to each other also adds to a feeling of authenticity to their characters. In fact, every character speaks in a way that feels real and current. This, combined with the shorter chapters and fast pace of the book, made for a quick and compelling read. Promise Boys is a new favorite and go-to book rec of mine. I look forward to more stories from Nick Brooks!
PRR Assistant Director, Erika Brittain