I struggled with this rating, but honestly, a good intent doesn't mean a thing if I cannot get into your book. Coles takes on the "Black Lives Matter" movement with "Tyler Johnson Was Here." I saw some people giving lip service to this being just like "The Hate U Give."
Honestly, other books don't have to be like "The Hate U Give." They just need to be able to stand on their own. And "Tyler Johnson Was Here" read like a first draft of a book. This really needed developed more. I felt at times as if I was reading a stage play. Nothing felt authentic. Also there were a lot of plot holes that Coles doesn't address by the end of this book. And there were just way too many similarities with "The Hate U Give" so it felt a bit like this book was trying to piggy-back off of that book's success. There is nothing wrong with that, I mean look at how many authors are still trying to copy "Gone Girl."
I do think it's good that we have these young adult books out here talking about "Black Lives Matter" and police brutality, I just wanted way more than what we get in this one.
"Tyler Johnson Was Here" is told in the first person point of view by Marvin Johnson. Marvin's twin brother Tyler starts hanging out with a gang at school that is selling drugs. Marvin tries his best to talk some sense into Tyler's head about not getting caught up in a world that he barely seems ready to become involved with. When Tyler goes missing and eventually is found dead, Marvin does what he can to make sure that the world remembers his brother.
I really didn't like Marvin that much. He was all over the place as a character. I thought it was weird that a 18 year old teen was into "A Different World" as much as he was too. I don't think that show even comes on TV anymore. There is a mention that he is watching it on Netflix, but I don't know, if I was his age I would probably be watching "Dear White People" or something else.
Speaking of weirdness with Marvin, there is also a scene where we have Marvin eating guacamole for the first time, I even went wait there's no Chipotle there? How the heck do you live anywhere in the U.S. and not know what guacamole tastes like. I am sure it's a dumb thing to get hung up on, but seriously, it took me out of the story.
Besides this, I found the character of Marvin frustrating because the whole thing with him trying to help a drug dealer get out on bail to help him find his brother was really stupid. Even I could see that wasn't going to end well and it was a plot point for way too long.
The other characters were not developed at all in this book. This book is supposed to be about Marvin's brother Tyler, but hey, he's barely in this and doesn't feel like a real presence either. I think if we actually had the book set up more interactions between the two brothers I would have felt more when Tyler goes missing and is found dead. Also since the book synopsis spoils this for readers, you are just waiting for Marvin and his mother to catch up with what you already know.
Marvin's two best could be called stereotype one and two. He has a gay best friend, Ivy, and his other friend who is Hispanic, G-mo. There is a throw away line about G-mo's father being deported and that stopped me in my tracks. There just seemed to be no thought to these characters except to be there to listen to Marvin.
There is a romance that didn't feel realistic at all between Marvin and a girl named Faith. I still wondered why that was even needed in this story. Or they could have just stayed friends.
We also get vague hints about what Marvin's father did to go to jail, but then Marvin says that his father is wrongly imprisoned. Then we find out more details and it's glossed over. Coles decides to show letters from Marvin's father to him, but doing that ruined the flow for me as a reader.
The writing was not good. I don't know what else to say. Plus the dialogue with some of the characters speaking to Marvin had them up there with cartoon villains for me. I still do not get why Marvin's principal was against him going to MIT. Why would that be any of his business? Don't get me started on the MIT recruiter telling Marvin they would love to have them to increase their diversity quotas. I mean, I feel like if that happened in real life you could report someone. The cops in this story were just painted as racist, there's no subtlety at all with the writing.
"This is real life, not the movies. Boys like you don’t have a place at MIT. Or any of the prestigious schools in America.”
“Well, Mr. Dodson, sir, I’d like to think otherwise. I think there’s plenty of room for boys who look like me. But people like you make it hard for us to see that."
I still don't get what the principal's problem was. Marvin apparently is a straight A student and practically aced his SATs. This whole thing was weird. Speaking of that, we only found out about his grades and SATs on page 183 or 63 percent. I didn't even get why Marvin was talking about going there since it didn't seem like he was very into school.
“Listen. I called you, Marv, because I know you’ll listen and understand and, apparently now, will do whatever is necessary to get your brother back.”
“I need your help,” Johntae says slowly. “I’ve got a thousand-dollar bail. If you can get me out of here, I can help you get Tyler back.”
I say, “Deal,” without hesitation. I barely have a buck to my name, but I don’t care. I’ll do anything to have my brother back.
This made not a lick of sense at all. Especially after this is the same person that beat up Marvin, took his chain, and also beat his brother up too.
"G-mo’s—makes us chips and guacamole. I’ve never had it before and it tastes amazing, and something about the lime or the cilantro or whatever else is in it calms my nerves."
First off you have been friends with him how long? And this is the first time his mom has made this? Second, how have you lived in the U.S. and not had guacamole?
“Are you aware that Ms. Tanner signed you up for an interview with MIT at the college fair on Thursday?”
I forget to breathe for a moment. “No, sir?”
“No, sir, what, boy?” he shouts, and I flinch a bit.
“No, I was not aware.”
“I’ve tried calling the MIT admissions office, and they won’t allow me to cancel your appointment with their admissions representative. You know what that means, boy?”
Seriously how the hell did Marvin not report this behavior to his mother or teacher? I feel like this is illegal that a principal could cancel your interview with a school.
The plot holes in this book drove me batty after a while. For example, we hear mention of Marvin's Auntie Nicola. She used to be a cop and isn't (similar, but not the same as Starr's uncle who is a cop in THUG) and just does nothing but call Marvin and his mom. This is after Tyler is found dead. Why wouldn't she be there with her family and at least help planning the funeral?
Speaking of that, no funeral takes place in this book and it's mentioned due to lack of money, but later on there is a mention that they have a lot of money from donations with enough left to send Marvin to school.
Also we have Marvin's mother call the police to report her son missing, but we find out later on that Tyler is shot by a cop that had to happen the same night he went missing. So the police knew at least of one teenage black boy who was dead, why in the world didn't they come back to the family right away to view the body? It made zero sense to me at all.
We don't have much of a trial scene in this book, we just have Marvin and his mother going to a deposition to listen to the witness who shot video of Tyler being murdered. And then later on they just get a letter in the mail telling them that the police officer is going to trial. I mean.. you are telling me a case that involves something like this wouldn't at least have the DA's office calling the family? It was stuff like that kept taking me out of the story.
This book takes place in Alabama, but it doesn't feel real to me. The book just returns to the same places over and over again, Marvin's home, Faith's house, the school, the store, etc. It didn't feel big enough to me while I was reading.
The ending was okay, Coles tries to end things on a good note, but by then I was just ready to close this book and move onto something else.