By: Hannah Rapp, Teen Librarian
It’s been a while since I wrote about what I’ve been reading, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some great books in my life over the past few weeks. Today’s What I Just Read was not only a great read, it had the added bonus of being a really fantastic audiobook.
What I Just Read: X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
What’s It About (Jacket Description): I am Malcolm. I am my father’s son. But to be my father’s son means that they will always come for me. They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.
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.
Do I Like It: Yes!
Thoughts: I admit, when I was assigned chapters from The Autobiography of Malcolm X in college, I skimmed them and then mostly forgot about him. I didn’t know much about Malcolm X, aside from the fact that he was a famous activist who found direction in prison, until I picked up X: A Novel. I certainly didn’t know anything about his life before prison, which is the focus of this novel. But after reading some rave reviews, and realizing that Ilyasah Shabazz is one of his daughters, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this novel, and it did not disappoint.
X: A Novel was immersive right from the start – the very first line plunged me right into the middle of Malcolm’s life: “Friends tell me trouble’s coming. I ease out of the restaurant onto the sidewalk, gun in my pocket.” And it just kept going from there. From his family and upbringing in Lansing, Michigan, to the jazz clubs of Harlem, I couldn’t get enough of the atmosphere and feel of the 1940s, especially the parts of that era that I’d never known much about. But even more than that, I was fascinated to learn more about Malcolm X. The great thing about historical novels like this one is that I got the feel of a novel and fiction, but most of what I learned about the person was accurate (seriously – there was a phenomenal author’s note at the end that really outlined what was real, what wasn’t, and why those changes had been made.) As he appears in this novel, Malcolm was an arrogant, brilliant, angry and charismatic man. Those traits, which later led him to become a powerful civil rights leader and activist, also led him to be a successful hustler and petty thief, immersed in the seedier parts of Boston and Harlem.
Hearing about Malcolm making bad choice after bad choice could have been almost painful. But it was so clear from the book why he was doing destructive things, what the appeal was, and how he was using these choices to distract himself from his own anger and grief and the injustices around him. And knowing all that made it understandable and relatable to read about, even as I was shaking my head at his decisions. Watching Malcolm grow and mature almost in spite of himself was almost as much fun as discovering everything that made him so remarkable. I never got tired of hearing what he was up to next, about his interactions with the people around him, and about the loyalty to his family and sense of injustice that he never could erase, no matter how much he tried.
X was a wonderful novel as historical fiction, as an immersive look at a time and place, and as a character study of a fascinating, frustrating and ultimately incredible man. How much did I love it? Well, I just checked out The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I can’t wait to dive in.