Robeson Battlefield lives in a nice neighborhood with his parents and his little brother Carmichael. Pacino Clapton lives in the projects with his mother (when she’s actually home instead of out working at one of her two jobs) and his little sisters—twins named Lavender and Indigo. Robeson is always neatly dressed and tries to avoid getting in trouble. Pacino puts on a tough-guy attitude and a “street” appearance. What could the two 13-year-olds possibly have in common?

Both boys attend Alain Locke Middle School, and both boys have landed in “PSS”—Post-School Suspension—for incidents with the same kid, Tariq Molten. Tariq is the biggest bully at Alain Locke, and he already has a criminal record. Robeson (whom Pacino nicknames “Crease” for his always-neat appearance) and Pacino soon bond as they get to know one another during their three days in PSS. The boys discuss self-respect, women, hip-hop music, the “N-word” and what it means to grow up black in today’s society. They go to one another’s homes and share meals together. They agree to “have each other’s backs” and stick together as they face whatever Tariq brings their way.

Author Derrick Barnes, himself the product of a single-parent home, manages to bring the characters of Pacino and Crease to life within the pages of We Could Be Brothers. Barnes is an accomplished writer, husband and father with a list of literary successes. Although his focus here is on the African-American teen experience, the story is a perfect coming-of-age tale that could apply to any American teen. Pacino and Crease learn to overcome their fears and stand up for themselves, while still maintaining their integrity. They also learn the value of friendship—and that sometimes the best of friends can seem, in the beginning, the most unlikely.

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