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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

On 28, Apr 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

How It Went DownFrom GoodReads: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

How It Went Down is certainly (and unfortunately) a timely book with all the police brutality cases that are coming to light in the mainstream. The story is more like the Treyvon Martin case as the police are not actually involved in what went down, but it’s reflective of all the current turmoil over race relations.

Each chapter of the book moves further and further from the actual shooting. A whole cast of characters from the guy who lives down the street to Tariq’s best friend, to the girl who tried to resuscitate him at the scene. All their lives intertwine through the events set in motion that day.

I think the flap copy is a little misleading. It’s pretty clear what happened with the shooting, although there is some question about whether or not Tariq had a gun. But even that isn’t too unclear. What most of the book wades through is everyone figuring out who Tariq was or who they thought he was. Was he a guy on the straight and narrow undeserving of being shot? Was he thinking about joining the local gang? Was he already in it and had it coming? The questions go on. Even more interesting is that through their perceptions of Tariq and through their reflections on the shooting, on the neighborhood, and on the aftermath, what the reader really learns is what the people who surrounded Tariq were like.

What makes the book really shine is that nothing is black and white, except maybe the tragedy of the shooting. The people in particular are portrayed as people. People who often have few, if any, choices and who try to make the best of things any way they can. Sometimes they make poor decisions, but that doesn’t mean they are bad people. Just people trying to survive. I can’t speak to how well Magoon captures living in a poor neighborhood, but it certainly felt like a real place. One character in particular, who was lucky enough to get out of the neighborhood and thrust into a new, wealthier, more privileged life, does a really good job of showing just how hard it is to make it out of the low income neighborhoods and how the political, social and cultural systems are set up to both keep people there and are prejudiced against them. His story juxtaposes well with those still in the neighborhood hoping to, trying to, and dreaming of getting out, getting a better life.

There is some drinking and drug use (marijuana) and the violence makes this better suited to high school readers. The book deals with controversial political ideas as well as race which may make some readers uncomfortable or angry. It is, though, an important book that looks at some very important issues we’re facing as a nation today. It would be interesting to see this used either in a history or current events type class or even an English class. Reluctant readers might even enjoy it for the sensation of the story and because it’s an extremely compelling read. But be warned it isn’t short and there are a lot of characters so I wouldn’t call it an easy read.

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