Friday, February 12, 2010

The Rock and the River, by Kekla Magoon

Last fall, I was checking in with 7th grade students about reading projects to see if they liked the books they had selected the week before.  Most had read a chapter or two.  One student sheepishly said, "Um, I finished it already," showing me The Rock and the River, by Kekla Magoon.  I asked him if this was usual for him - some students are fast readers.  He replied that he doesn't read much and finds it hard to find a book.  But this book completely grabbed him.

As a librarian and teacher, that is a moment we live for, a moment that can sustain you over many longs days.  This student found a book that spoke to him and completely engaged him - and that experience can last a long time with a student.  This winter, I read The Rock and the River, and I wholeheartedly agree with this student - it's a gripping, thought-provoking book.

The Rock and the River
by Kekla Magoon
NY: Aladdin, 2009; 304 pages
ages 12 and up
Thirteen-year old Sam knows that he must do what his father expects, but that becomes hard when his older brother parts ways with his father’s teachings.  His father is a famous African-American civil rights lawyer who works closely with Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Sam finds literature about the Black Panthers under his brother’s bed, he starts to wonder whether there are other ways to bring about changes in society. Sam beings to explore the Panthers, but soon he's involved in something far more serious -- and more dangerous -- than he could have ever predicted. Set during the summer of 1968 in Chicago, this book is about a young African-American boy’s search for identity and brotherhood.  It is a riveting story about an important time in our history.

Kekla Magoon's writing is direct and powerful.  She was honored with the 2010 Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe Award for New Talent and is profiled in the Brown Bookshelf 28 Days Later feature. She brings you right into the scene, where you can imagine being in Sam's shoes.

She opens with a scene at a protest that Sam's father has organized.  Sam and his older brother Stick don't want to be there, and start to leave.  But they walk into a part of the crowd where "a group of white men armed with bats, bottles and sticks were beating on people at the edge of the crowd."  Stick can't just avoid this confrontation, but rushes in to protect an older black woman who is getting hurt.
"Stick! The cops!" I shouted.  His head snapped up. In that split second, the man fighting with him bent down and seized the neck of a broken bottle from the ground. "No!" I cried.  The man swung and the bottle connected with Stick's temple.  Stick fell to the ground, and the man stumbled away.  (p. 5)

If you're at all intrigued, read the first chapter on Google Books:

The Rock and the River will challenge kids to think about how they would react in difficult situations, the nature of revenge, how to make a decision for yourself instead of just basing it on other's opinions.  I would save this book for middle school students.  There are scenes of violence that might be upsetting to younger students.  But they are presented within context. I agree wholeheartedly with Richie Partington:
In her debut novel, Magoon, who studied history as an undergraduate, does an exceptional job of integrating many sides of very complex racial and political issues into this tense tale of an adolescent who has grown up in the Civil Rights Movement.

Find this book at your local public library using WorldCat, or at a local bookstore.  You can find it online at Amazon.  If you make a purchase on Amazon using the links here, a small percentage will go toward Great Kid Books.  These proceeds will enable me to review other gripping stories for our children.  Thank you for your support.

1 comment:

  1. this is one of my favorite books from last summer. So powerful!