When we heard that Jay Coles upcoming Tyler Johnson Was Here is a story inspired by his life and included themes of grief, gangs, friendship and the Black Lives Matter movement, we knew we had to get his input on book recommendations for this series. Coincidentally, and because the publishing world is exactly the size of an English village, Jay will also be featured in the upcoming anthology Wednesdays’s featured author, Ibi Zoboi, is editing, Black Enough: Stories of Black Teenhood in America.  We are so lucky to feature Jay on the blog today and learn more about Tyler Johnson Was Here as well as the books that influenced him to be a writer and create this particular, personal story.


Jay Coles

JAY COLES is a young adult and middle grade writer, a composer with ASCAP, and a professional musician residing in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University and holds degrees in English and Liberal Arts. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing music for various music publishers. Jay’s forthcoming young adult novel TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE is about a boy whose life is torn apart by police brutality when his twin brother goes missing, inspired by events from the author’s life and the Black Lives Matter movement.


Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: March 20th 2018
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Tyler Johnson Was Here

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.



Here are three books that inspired me to write and influenced me while I was writing and re-writing and re-writing again:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – While this one isn’t super diverse, I read this book probably twice a year. It’s helped me answer some big questions about growing up, identity, and most importantly, navigating grief. There are even a couple small, small references to this book in TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. 

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers – It’s a book about brotherhood, gang life, friendship, and living in the hood, which are all important themes in TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. It’s a book that I loved growing up because it was exactly like my childhood. 

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds – Jason is my literary hero. Reading his books (alongside Walter Dean Myers’) growing up showed me that I could be a writer, too. The Boy in the Black Suit helped me with realizing that I can write a book about grief, too, and that not just white folks can write about topics like that. Black and brown people grieve, too, and need stories that help them through. 

There is a hint on Jay’s website that a Middle Grade book announcement may be forthcoming and we can not WAIT to hear what it is!! Be sure to check out the past posts in this series as well as the upcoming schedule as our Black History Month series continues next week.