By Claire W.

In Jay Coles’ debut novel, Tyler Johnson Was Here, Marvin Johnson and his twin brother, Tyler, find themselves growing apart as Tyler becomes more involved with a group of peers known for dealing drugs. When Tyler goes to a party one night, Marvin and his two best friends, G-mo and Ivy, decide to tag along and keep an eye on Tyler. What starts out as seemingly harmless fun escalates quickly with a shooting, subsequent police raid, and the disappearance of Tyler. Marvin’s desperate search for his brother ends in tragedy when Tyler is found dead several days later. As Marvin attempts to cope with his overwhelming grief and support his unraveling mother, things become even more complicated when a video surfaces online of Tyler being shot and killed by a police officer. As the trial for the police officer grows near, Marvin fights to use his voice and seek justice for Tyler, while also navigating the public’s opinion of his brother, good and bad.

This young adult novel tells a timely story seemingly ripped straight from the headlines. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and Coles’ own life experiences, his exploration of issues of racism, gun violence, and police brutality have the power to spur important dialogue around these issues. Equally as relevant is his exploration of family, friends, and community and how these ties have the power to bind, and sometimes, break us. And finally, the exploration and depiction of grief and perseverance, especially from the perspective of a young teenager, is gut-wrenching and heart-felt, adding to the authenticity of Coles’ story: “The human heart is like a sponge. There’s a way to squeeze out all the hurt you don’t want. And somewhere in that hurting heart of yours,” she says, “you’ll find the strength to go on.”

Jay Coles is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University. Not only does he write young adult and middle grade literature, but he also spends his time as a professional musician and composer. EVPL is thrilled to be hosting Mr. Coles as part of our explorative lecture series, SPEAK. The event will be held at Benjamin Bosse High School Auditorium on April 4 from 7:00 – 8:00 pm.

Check out Jay Coles’ playlist for Tyler Johnson Was Here:

1. “Feel” by Kendrick Lamar
2. “Hip Hop Ride” by Da Youngstas
3. “Until the End of Time” by Tupac
4. “Hail Mary” by Tupac
5. “Change” by J. Cole
6. “Power Struggle” by J. Cole
7. “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys
8. “He Is the Same” by Jon Bellion
9. “All We Got” by Chance The Rapper
10. “Martyrs” by Mick Jenkins
11. “Can You Hold Me” by NF
12. “Mine” by Beyoncé
13. “Hypnotize” by Notorious B.I.G
14. “Guts Over Fear” by Eminem and Sia

Claire W.
Tween, Teen, and Transitional Youth Librarian of Practice

Claire W.

Claire enjoys reading, especially graphic novels and young adult fiction, and finding and exploring new methods of creative expression. She frequently contemplates the existence of unicorns and other magical creatures, and spends much of her time with her two very real dogs and husband.

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