Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Trigger warnings: Gun violence, police brutality, racism, casual use of the n-word

Synopsis: When Marvin Johnson's twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it's up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here is an incredibly strong debut novel. We follow Marvin as he goes to school and keeps his head down as best as possible. All he wants is to graduate and go to MIT. His life gets much more complicated when his brother goes missing, and is later found dead. This is the first book I've read where the main character struggles with police brutality because something happened to a family member. This allows Jay to show the reader what that kind of grieving is like. We also get to spend time with Tyler and we see how he interacts with his family. I loved Marvin. His beliefs are challenged in different ways throughout the novel and he has to rethink his motivations.

I was hooked on this story from the start. Jay has such a compelling writing style, and I thought the story was very well done. We get enough of Tyler and Marvin's interactions to see what kind of people they are, as twins and as individuals. One of the things I loved the most was that Jay included that black people are not a monolith. That's a common sentiment I've seen around, but I think it was best utilized here because this story focuses on twins. Even two people who are the same age and grew up in the same house can have vastly different ways of viewing their own lives, especially in regards to race. The one thing that made me shake my head was the interactions the principal would have with Marvin. Marvin's school was very similar to my own, but the principal seemed extremely abrasive to Marvin. I'm also white, so my interactions with my principal could have been very different from my black classmates.

Great debut with a lot of wonderful scenes about grief and family.

4 howls