Alfonso Jones is a busy young man: playing trumpet in the band, acting in the school play, maintaining his grades, working as a bike messenger… all while trying to deal with the fact that his father has been in jail for many years for a crime he did not commit. Yet, when DNA evidence exonerates him for the crime, the family has reason to celebrate, and Alfonso heads out to buy a new suit. Reports of a aggravated customer at the department store sends the off-duty police officer who is working as a security guard on high alert. He sees Alfonso hold up a coat hanger while trying on a suit, interprets it as a gun, and shoots him. I Am Alfonso Jones tells the story of the lead up and the aftermath of that shooting death.
The author and illustrators use many perspectives to relay both the plot itself and the overall messages of the book. After his death, Alfonso boards a ghost train filled with others who have been killed in police shootings. In addition, his class had been preparing Hamlet for an upcoming show, and with this comes many literary references and allusions.
The reader sees the aftermath of Alfonzo’s death through the eyes of his civil rights activist grandfather, his girlfriend, his mother and others. Medina also looks into the life of the policeman himself and the possible effects the shooting has had on his mental health. The classroom scenes were especially affecting as the teacher works to guide the students through the horrible wake of Alonso’s death.
My only criticism of the book is that while I appreciated the important messages, it has a lot going on. These are all themes that need to be addressed, but at times, I felt it distracted from the central goal of the book.
I Am Alfonso Jones is a powerful and timely read that introduces many different types of artistic storytelling techniques. It would be a great addition to any high school library.