Shabazz, Ilyasah and Magoon, Kekla. X
January 6th 2015 by Candlewick Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Malcolm Little, who is being raised in desperate poverty in Lansing, Michigan in the 1930s, hopes that life can get better. His father was dead, killed most likely by white supremacists, and his mother was deemed unfit by the white establishment as well. While his older brother and sister do their best, Malcolm is a difficult child, who eventually heads to Boston to live with half sister Ella. There, he manages (even at a young age), to get into the seedy underbelly of society, shining shoes at a club but also supplying club goers with "reefer", prostitutes, and condoms. He makes some good friends, like Shorty, and is a success with the ladies. Ella is unhappy with his work at the club, so he works for a time at a soda fountain, but is unable to stay on the straight and narrow. There is injustice everywhere, and little that he feels he can do to address it. His jobs often put him in contact with borderline criminal elements, and eventually he ends up in jail. There, hoping to make a change, he becomes a member of the Nation of Islam, an organization which he headed up during the height of the Civil Rights movement.
Strengths: This is a fascinating look at the life of Malcolm X before he came to prominence, and a good description of what life was like for African Americans before and during WWII. While this seems to draw heavily on The Autobiography of Malcolm X (the description of "conking" hair definitely was influenced by this), it is a much more accessible read than that almost 500 page tome! While Malcolm's activities are not cleaned up (it's clear that he did drugs, was popular with the ladies, and had trouble staying on the right side of the law), they aren't described in ways that would be inappropriate for high school students, although I don't think this is a middle school book. It's interesting that Ms. Shabazz wanted to make sure that people still are familiar with her father's story, and Kekla Magoon does a fantastic job of making the characters and settings come alive.
Weaknesses: Everything I have read about Malcolm X has portrayed him as being... not a very nice person, so I struggle with his role in the Civil Rights movement. It's true that everyone has both good and bad in their personalities, but it's hard to reconcile so much illegal activity with a movement leader. I wish this had been addressed, somehow.
What I really think: I don't quite know. I feel like I should buy it, but don't know that I will have readers for it.