Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon: Review

Wow, if you're into young adult literature I can't think of a better book for you to add to your TBR stack. This is an amazing book, covering some sensitive topics in a graceful yet tough way. The author really does this subject matter justice with this read.

Book Summary:

For thirteen-year-old Sam it’s not easy being the son of known civil rights activist Roland Childs. Especially when his older brother (and best friend), Stick, begins to drift away from him for no apparent reason. And then it happens: Sam finds something that changes everything forever.

Sam has always had faith in his father, but when he finds literature about the Black Panthers under Stick’s bed, he’s not sure who to believe: his father or his best friend. Suddenly, nothing feels certain anymore.

Sam wants to believe that his father is right: You can effect change without using violence. But as time goes on, Sam grows weary of standing by and watching as his friends and family suffer at the hands of racism in their own community. Sam begins to explore the Panthers with Stick, but soon he’s involved in something far more serious — and more dangerous — than he could have ever predicted. Sam is faced with a difficult decision. Will he follow his father or his brother? His mind or his heart? The rock or the river?

About the Author:

Most people start their biographies at the beginning - when they were born. But Kekla likes to think outside the box. She lives in New York City, an exciting, wonderful and inspiring place, where she is surrounded by fascinating people of many different backgrounds. "What's a kekla?" people sometimes ask when they meet her.

Kekla loves reading and writing (are you surprised?) and she likes to play with words. Her favorite game is Boggle, and she almost always wins. (If you have never played Boggle, you should!)

Even for a word lover, it takes a lot of practice to become a good writer. Kekla went to graduate school at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she got to practice a lot. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree, and made lots of good friends who are children's writers, just like she is. It is a very special gift to have people in your life who understand even the strangest and most unique things about you (for instance, why you are willing to spend all day every day at your computer typing up stories about imaginary people.)

Kekla moved to New York City in 2001 after finishing college. At the time, she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life (she hadn't yet decided to be a writer), but she knew that whatever she decided to do, New York City would probably be a place she could do it. It seemed like a city where anything is possible!

As a college student at Northwestern University, Kekla studied History, which has always been one of her favorite subjects to read and write about. Many amazing, talented, brave and creative people have gone before us. Hearing their stories helps Kekla understand how the world got to be the way it is today.

Kekla wrote her first novel when she was in high school. She should have known then that she was destined to be a writer! But she just thought it was a fun thing to do in her spare time. That story was never published, and probably never will be published, but it was very much fun to write.

Kekla always liked telling stories, even when she was in elementary school. Her dad took her out to breakfast every Saturday, just so that she could tell him stories about her week. Her mom read lots of books to her and took her to the library so she could read and read and read. Kekla grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her family moved there when she was five, and her parents still live there, so she gets to go home and visit her old childhood hot spots.

Kekla is biracial - her mom is white and her dad is black. Her mom grew up in the U.S., but her ancestors came from Holland, Scotland and maybe elsewhere in Europe. Her dad grew up in Cameroon, a country in western Africa.

When Kekla was very young, she lived with her parents in Cameroon for several years. Getting to have experiences like that makes it great to be biracial!

Kekla was born in Michigan, in the summer of 1980. She was born early in the morning, so her parents named her after the sunrise. "Kekla" means "morning star" in a west African language called Bassa, which her dad speaks.

So, now you know what a Kekla is! 

My Thoughts:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, wow this is an amazing read!  I picked it up as it was on the list of the Readers' Choice Books for Middle School 2011.  Our student book club uses this list as its reads each year so this one was on it.  Being a lover of historical fiction I was definitely interested in this book right from the start.

I think the author deserves accolades for taking on a topic not often covered in young adult literature.  The Black Panther Party is little understood by our young people and it is nice that there is a book out there that gives it some attention in an educational (not political) way.  Through the eyes of Sam, the main character, we get a clear picture at what life was like in the 1960s for young black men in urban areas.  He really does give a face to the movement and showcases the grassroots efforts during this time.

The author writes beautifully, really endearing readers to Sam and Stick and it is really a unique experience to see two characters so very different but so very much alike at the same time.  There was a truly dynamic relationship between Sam, Stick and their father and it absolutely made this novel.

I would also be remiss if I didn't comment on the actual historical information at the end of the novel - so many times people skip over this as it isn't part of the main storyline but I encouraged my students to make sure they read it because it gives a lot of background and important information about the era in which this novel takes place and the events that made it such an important time.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a worthwhile read, thanks for the review.