From School Library Journal
With his mother newly dead, a job in a funeral home somehow becomes the perfect way for Matthew to deal with his crushing grief. Initially skeptical, he plans to use his early-release senior year program to work at a fried-chicken joint that's staffed by an entrancing girl with whom he eventually develops a gentle, tenderly depicted relationship. But the funerals intrigue him and then become deeply satisfying; Matthew finds solace in seeing others experiencing his pain. Matthew's neighbor, Mr. Ray, the funeral director with a sad back story, becomes almost a surrogate father when Matthew's dad gets drunk and then has an accident. Matthew's voice is authentic and perceptive as he navigates the initial months without his mom; he's supported by a believable cast of fully fleshed-out characters. Occasionally, his language waxes poetic, as when he describes the sights and sounds of Brooklyn: "our cement world of trash cans blown into the street, stray cats begging, stoop sitters dressed in fresh sneakers smoking blunts in broad daylight, old ladies sweeping the sidewalk, tired nine-to-fivers walking slowly on the final stretch before home." Reynolds writes with a gritty realism that beautifully captures the challenges—and rewards—of growing up in the inner city. A vivid, satisfying and ultimately upbeat tale of grief, redemption and grace. (Kirkus Reviews October 15, 2014)
When high school senior Matt realizes that working at the local chicken joint might mean cleaning up vomit, he reluctantly accepts a job at the neighborhood funeral parlor—the same one where his mother’s funeral was just held. To Matt’s surprise, he finds relief in watching funerals and seeing how mourners handle their grief, and he begins to grow closer to the funeral home’s owner, a local character. As he did in When I Was the Greatest, Reynolds portrays Brooklyn’s largely African-American Bed-Stuy neighborhood convincingly; Matt and his family are lower middle-class, as are their neighbors, but gangs and violence are a presence, as well. Coincidences and plot twists (including a car accident that conveniently helps Matt’s grieving father address his drinking problem) detract from the impact of the story as it develops. Romantic interest Lovey, a very appealing girl Matt meets at her grandmother’s funeral, doesn’t come on the scene until halfway through the book, and the wait feels long. An affecting story of a teenager’s path through pain, but one whose faults offset its strengths. (Publishers Weekly November 3, 2014)
Matt Miller’s mom is dead --- cancer. An ordinary Manhattan teenager’s world is changed forever: Matt can’t bring himself to open up his mom’s cookbook, friends are treating him oddly and he falls asleep each night listening to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” on repeat. But because he missed the first few weeks of school, he’s also lost his job for the senior work-study program. Matt’s prepared to start working at the local Cluck Bucket (think greasy chicken and gross conditions) when Mr. Ray, the funeral home director, offers Matt a job.
You’d think that Matt has had enough of death, but the job pays well and Mr. Ray is kind. School seems petty and unimportant; Matt lives for the funerals he secretly attends after his work is done. After all, who would question THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT? Sitting in the back row, he searches out the people closest to the deceased. When he sees them cry, it’s strangely comforting. The fact that other people are feeling the same pain he does makes him feel less alone --- and Matt does feel alone, especially since his dad has turned to drinking in the wake of the funeral.
Matt is forced to grow up. He meets a cute girl, Love (yes, that’s her real name), who understands grief. He talks to Mr. Ray, beginning to understand the funeral director’s own past pain. And somehow, slowly, Matt moves forwards in life.
Not many teen books have approached such heavy subjects in such a real, expert way.
Jason Reynolds’ THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT is alternately funny, hopeful and sad. Readers should be prepared for thick slang, which can be difficult to wade through, and occasional swearing, but on the whole, the book is an interesting one. There is a casual style to the writing that cannot mask the deep themes this novel deals with: grief and death. It also touches upon alcoholism, love and growing up, all in the realm of a New York City teen’s experiences.
I felt that this book lacked a clear conclusion. Grief is like that --- there is no cut-and-dry stop to mourning --- but the novel’s ending was disconcertingly abrupt. This, along with the constant, overbearing slang, were my two irritations, but the topics in this novel were truly fascinating. Not many teen books have approached such heavy subjects in such a real, expert wayand in such a setting. Matt’s story is worth hearing --- because at one time or another, all of us will be wearing black suits, dealing with our own pain.
Reviewed by Mary M., Teen Board Member on January 8, 2015 (Teensreadtoo.com January 8, 2015)
His mother recently dead from breast cancer, 17-year-old Matt feels his life is backwards and that he has become invisible at school. Then, ironically, he secures a work-study job at the local funeral home, owned by Mr. Ray, a respected fixture in their Bed-Stuy neighborhood, and discovers, to his surprise, that he enjoys attending funerals. “Somehow,” he thinks, “it made me feel better knowing my pain isn’t only mine.” It is at a funeral that he meets a beautiful girl with the improbable name of Love and feels an instant attraction. The two become friends and gradually their friendship, rooted in trust, becomes something deeper that may redeem both of them from their losses and loneliness. Though it gets off to a slightly slow start, Reynolds’ second novel quickly becomes a superb, character-driven story. His protagonist Matt is a wonderfully sympathetic, multidimensional character whose voice is a perfect match for the material and whose relationships with Love and Mr. Ray—also a fascinating character—are beautifully realized. This quiet story is clearly a winner. (Booklist February 1, 2015)
Matt’s mother was the center of Matt’s heart and the family home; with her passing, nothing seems real or important anymore, and Matt’s father seems to be falling apart. When Matt’s work-study job falls through and Mr. Ray, his neighbor and the director of the local funeral home, offers him a job, he’s skeptical at first, then surprised and a little creeped out when he finds comfort sitting in on the funerals of complete strangers. He eventually realizes that it’s only at funerals where he can find someone who really understands how he feels; watching the reactions of those closest to the deceased provides the confirmation he needs to validate his emotions. When his father is hit by a car, Matt becomes even closer to Mr. Ray, but when Love, a girl that he has been crushing on from afar, stands up at her grandmother’s funeral, he finally opens his heart and begins to heal. Reynolds has a fantastic ear for the easy, lyrical expressions and idioms of his characters, and his genuine love for the African-American Bed-Stuy community is palpable. Matt’s introduction to funeral culture is at times predictably heartbreaking, but at other times it’s just hilarious, giving a sense of the range of experience. As Love takes him into her world, serving at a homeless shelter and wandering through the Botanical Gardens, the story takes on a subtly realized shape that gives the realism weight and texture. Reynolds’ work here makes him a fine heir to the Walter Dean Myers tradition of loving storytelling that captures the heart and humor of multigenerational black urban experience. (Bulletin, *STARRED REVIEW February 2015)
His classmates wonder why Matt always wears a black suit to school, not knowing that since his mother died he has been working part-time at a funeral home. Reluctant to take the job at first, Matt finds that he is fascinated by the funerals he attends, focusing on the person closest to the deceased and empathizing with them. In the funeral director, Mr. Ray, Matt finds a secondary father figure while his own father deals with the death of his wife. With the help of his best friend, Chris, and a strong and intriguing girl named Lovey, Matt finds the companionship he needs through the grieving process and also helps out others along the way.
The Boy in the Black Suit is both realistically and sympathetically written. The reader never feels taken out of Matt’s head or the setting of the story. Characters and relationships are well described and developed. Readers who have lost close family members will relate easily to Matt’s feelings and observations and will enjoy the straightforward, often rhythmic way the author presents them. This will be popular among fans of realistic fiction and will be enjoyed by many readers in general.—Johanna Nation-Vallee. (VOYA February 2015)
High-school senior Matt wears a black suit because he has a job at Mr. Ray’s funeral home (setting up chairs and food for services), but also because he himself is in mourning, for the mother who died just before the book begins and the long-on-the-wagon father who has returned to drink. Although his work responsibilities end when the funerals begin, Matt finds himself sticking around to find “the person hurting the most,” hoping that his or her expression of grief will perhaps help him deal with his own. While all this sounds like heavy problem-novel territory, it isn’t. Matt is a good kid with a good best friend, Chris; their Bed-Stuy neighborhood is gritty but also a place of true community. There’s even a sweet romance between Matt and a girl he meets at her grandmother’s funeral. With When I Was the Greatest (rev. 1/14) and now this book, Reynolds writes about urban African American kids in a way, warm and empathetic, the late Walter Dean Myers would have applauded. (Horn Book March/April 2015)
"The realistic setting and character-driven tale keeps readers turning the pages of this winner." -School Library Journal
"A vivid, satisfying and ultimately upbeat tale of grief, redemption and grace." -Kirkus Reviews
"Matt is a wonderfully sympathetic, multidimensional character whose voice is a perfect match for the material and whose relationships with Love and Mr. Ray—also a fascinating character—are beautifully realized. This quiet story is clearly a winner." -Booklist
*"Reynolds’ work here makes him a fine heir to the Walter Dean Myers tradition of loving storytelling that captures the heart and humor of multigenerational black urban experience." -Bulletin, STARRED REVIEW