Thursday, October 25, 2012
The Rock and The River - Kekla Magoon
Author: Kekla Magoon
Publisher: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster), 2009 (Hardcover)
Length: 290 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: October 23, 2012
Finished: October 25, 2012
From the inside cover:
The Time: 1968
The Place: Chicago
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 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?
This was picked up in my need to read more historical fiction, plus I was intrigued by a young adult book involving the Black Panthers and wanted to see how the author handled that.
Sam and Steven (Stick) are the sons of civil rights activist Roland Childs in 1968. After watching their friends beaten unjustly by police in their Chicago neighbourhood and living through the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Stick is even more set in his conviction that his father's beliefs are not his own, and he joins the Black Panthers. Sam, confused that his brother would associate with a violent group like the Panthers, feels pulled between his father's staunch devotion to nonviolent resistance and his brother's more militant approach to the issues their community faces.
There were a few things that really stood out for me. One was that the author brings up the issue of class and incorporates it into the context of the story. Sam is from a middle class family and lives in a better neighbourhood, and even though Mr. Childs and Stick are involved in the lower-income community, it takes Sam a while to even realize and sympathize with the hardships unique to that neighbourhood because he's not surrounded by it constantly.
Secondly, I have to give the author credit for showing a balanced portrayal of the Black Panthers. The main image held of the Panthers (at least by most people I know), is one of violence, and the author does an excellent job at showing all the good things the Panthers stood for and accomplished for their communities and you can understand why a need for that type of group existed at the time. Also, the author doesn't pass judgement on which movement was 'better', Stick even explains to Sam, "It's the difference between demonstrating and organizing...between waiting for handouts that aren't coming or taking care of each other the way we have to. It's the rock and the river, you know? They serve each other but they aren't the same thing." (pg. 233).
Lastly, even if you ignore the Civil Rights issues of the book, you have a story about a dominant father whose sons don't share his ideals. At the core, you have a book about two teenage boys trying to find out who they are and where they stand in regards to a particular issue; and how part of growing up is defining oneself and standing up for what you believe, regardless of who doesn't agree with you or support you.
Excellent writing, wonderful plot with great themes, rife with discussion, and a balanced portrayal of all the sides and issues. Truly an amazing novel.
Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. Sam's face is a little too close-up for my liking, but I like the pose and the fact that it was kept in sepia tones and the only thing in colour is the title.