By Elizabeth Wroten
MG Review: X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekela Magoon
On 29, Apr 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.
But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.
X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.
I know very little about Malcolm X. He wasn’t included in any of the history classes I took and honestly in all my US history classes we were lucky to make it past WWII. That being said, this book was still fantastic. No need to have a good grasp on who Malcolm Little went on to become.
I’m always amazed by life back in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Teens and people in their twenties seemed to have a lot more freedom and were able to go off and get jobs fairly easily. The way Malcolm was able to move to Boston and start picking up jobs, making money, and going places brought to mind Mare’s War and how Mare was able to pick up and leave her hometown and join the Women’s Army Corps, make money, and go out. The two stories are very different and take place at slightly different times, but that freedom for young people is present in both and, I think, has a lot of appeal for teen readers.
X is probably best suited to upper middle school and high school. There is a fair amount of marijuana smoking and dealing as well as drinking and some off page sex. Heads up, too, there is a fairly liberal use of the “n” word. It’s used in thoughts and memories of Malcolm who is realizing all the weight the word carries, so it’s use is not just as slang from the time, but as commentary on the status quo and how black people were (and are) kept as second rate citizens. All this makes the book sound terribly inappropriate, BUT Malcolm struggled. He makes bad decisions and he needs guidance, but doesn’t want to have to answer to any authority. This theme in the story I think would be incredibly attractive to young men (or young women) having a hard time. All teens struggle with these problems to one degree or another so Malcolm, despite how famous and active he became, is a relatable person as a teen. The book also continues into his time in prison where Malcolm makes a complete turn around. X certainly is an honest look at his younger life, but it’s set up as a lesson not an example.
Another excellent part in the book is the relationship Malcolm has with his murdered father. He really struggles with not having a father figure around and he is angry both at the people who murdered him and at his father for stirring the pot and getting killed for it. Shabazz and Magoon really capture the angst and emotional logic of kids in their mid teens. Malcolm also tries to shake all the teachings his father believed in about black power. You can see the tension of Malcolm wanting to believe in it, but also struggling to see how it can work and wanting to reject the teachings simply because he’s so angry with his father.
As a side note, I’m a little confused as to who wrote what in the book and how Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon wrote this together. If they alternated writing sections it’s incredibly seamless. And however they did it, it doesn’t really matter. The book is really well written and incredibly compelling.