I am Alfonso Jones tackles issues of media representation, police brutality, and racism in the graphic novel adaptation character, inspired by the real events of Alfonso Jones. But more than just a fictional portrayal of the tragic events, Medina brings in other black legends, ‘ghosts’, and side characters to combine and form a rich representation of race issues in America.
I doubt that this book needs much introduction, inspired by the tragic case of police brutality that ignited a nation – the shooting and murder of Alfonso Jones. Goodreads summarizes it as: In the story, teenager Alfonso Jones is thrust into the afterlife where he watches his family fight to gain justice after he is killed by an off-duty police officer. Following the recent exposure of YA narratives that explore these issues of police brutality (see a good NY Times list of other novels that discuss this), I am Alfonso Jones departs from those novels to be published as a graphic novel.
Drawing style is so important to an individual’s experience. While I did not really enjoy the illustrations from ‘Kindred’, visualized by the same illustrator, for some reason in this graphic novel just worked for me. When I read it, the pictures were in black and white, and perhaps that just made me enjoy the style more? For whatever reason, I enjoyed the artistic style and think that it would be fantastic to see it in physical form.
Onto the actual content within. Medina does an amazing job at integrating news footage, side characters perspectives, and other accounts of police brutality. We are treated to glances of Alfonso’s life before his murder, in the afterlife, and snippets of his life before he was even born. This gives us a much more comprehensive look at his life. Writing wise there were so many moments that Medina goes above and beyond.
The references to influential black Americans gives this a sense of history that is only furthered by the ‘ghosts’ in the afterlife. In the Afterward, Medina gives us the story of each of the ghosts within the book – featuring how they were killed and their life. By giving us a sense of the past, not only the highlights that we might be aware of, but also the past incidents of brutality, Medina puts Alfonso Jones in the history of influential voices and within the ‘no justice no peace’ past.
By creating this graphic novel, the story of Alfonso and a nuanced discussion of race is brought to younger audiences. Medina presents this in a masterful way making sure to start conversations about representations, and prejudice, in the media and the racism in American culture (for example, having Alfonso have ‘the talk’ and instead of the birds and bees it is about how to survive a police encounter). We see Alfonso as not an isolated incident, but part of a systematic system of oppression.
I feel that I Am Alfonso Jones is merely the tip of the iceberg in the way that these issues and conversations can be started to encourage and raise consciousness. The graphic novel explores these issues as starting points and does not offer false answers. By allowing Alfonso a voice in the afterlife, we are able to see the manipulations of the media, his feelings regarding the police office, and his opinions on the social movement that followed. I Am Alfonso Jones is not only a homage to the personality of Alfonso, but also a nuanced look into his death in the larger picture and ways we can enter into difficult conversations about the racism that is still very much prevalent in today’s society.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss.
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