All You Have to Do by Autumn Allen is about two Black male students who struggle to gain acceptance and equality in the prestigious schools they attend. In April 1968, Kevin was a student at Princeton and lived through the day when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. He and his fellow students decide to join a protest to protect the neighboring community from losing their homes as Columbia University gobbles up more real estate to expand their institution to build a new gym. Kevin and his fellow students are disappointed in the college because those homes belong to low income people of color who won’t have anywhere else to go. The school made it seem that it cares about the community and its students of color but the move made the students think otherwise. Kevin is unsure where he falls in the spectrum because his family has afforded him more privileges in comparison to other Black students. At times, he questions if he should be pushing hard for equality or should be grateful for his opportunities and keep quiet.
In September 1995, Gibran attended a prestigious private prep school. He and his fellow Black male students want to attend the Million Man March to show support of their culture. When they try to convince the school to allow them to attend, they face backlash which might lead to several consequences for Gibran if he doesn’t get in line with the policies at school. Gibran feels that even though the school has a Black principal, his and his fellow classmates' needs are not being met. They are expected to conform to their White classmates and other faculty’s perspectives of them. Gibran is quick to anger and he feels with every injustice that he consecutively faces, that his fuse gets smaller and smaller. The people around him worry about him and for him, especially when he seems to be ready to explode at any given moment.
The two students are connected and their struggles overlap in many different ways. They both want to emphasize the struggles and inequalities that Black people face on a daily basis. Both Gibran and Kevin came from families that were able to provide them with opportunities that other people of color might not have. They want to protest the quality of treatment Black people receive but, calling attention to the cause might cause them both to lose their opportunities that their parents worked hard to provide them with. Will Kevin and Gibran be able to discover who they want to be instead of accepting who society tells them they are?
I thought the book was an emotional read. It spoke of two turbulent times in history where racial tensions were high. I never knew about the Columbia gym fiasco and that was interesting to read and learn about. The book was narrated by Gibran and Kevin who were born decades apart but had similar struggles. It was interesting seeing how they both navigated what society and their respective families wanted for them and how they wanted the world to perceive them. Both character arcs were well developed and coincide with historical events to add more depth to their stories.
The book showcases how different people experience different things. In Gibran’s chapters, he talks about how he and his fellow Black students had to watch a talent show in which white students were mimicking their culture and how disrespectful it felt to them. When he tried to explain how it made them feel, he was expected to show them respect about their thoughts and feelings but he didn’t get the same respect back. It was hard to read that because we are taught to show respect but I can relate to how he was feeling of not being seen and respected. I feel like these chapters might be hard to digest for some readers but it is important to understand other people’s feelings and culture and treat them respectfully.
I thought the book was thought provoking and had many important heartfelt moments. However, I was surprised at the language the book had included for young readers. Personally, I wish the author didn’t include this but, I can understand if they felt that it made the characters more authentic. This was the author’s debut novel and I look forward to reading more books by the author.