Author: Ilyasah Shabazz, Kekla Magoon
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: January 2015
Length: 348 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
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.
Narrated By: Dion Graham , Ilyasah Shabazz
Publisher: Candlewick on Brilliance Audio
Release Date: January 2015
Length: 8 hrs and 56 mins
Dion Graham was a terrific narrator. The text itself contained a lot of natural colloqualism, even in internal dialogue, and Dion’s narration contained a perfect blend and a voice of the African-American struggle with incredible dialect. I would love to hear more of his narrations!
The Highs and Lows
I was surprised when the bilingual coordinator for my school district sent out a district-wide newsletter recommending X alongside other elementary picture and middle grades books for students to read as a diverse read for Black History Month. This was intended for elementary campuses, primarily, which is the struggle in teaching middle school. We have to make things so elementary, but then are griped at that what we are doing is not rigorous enough or preparing them for high school. I was currently listening to the audio at the time. Since I’ve finished the audio, I’ve found many recommending this for student reading in classes, and being a middle school teacher there would be incredible backlash if this were read in any grade below 9th or 10th grade. It is marketed as a YA read, and it is more mature than most YA today. Because it is historical, it is based on real events, but the content is not appropriate for immature readers. Reading Huckleberry Finn was a shock ten years ago when I was a junior in high school, so that should accompanied with a caveat for high school reading.
- Before Becoming Malcolm X. I don’t recall ever learning anything about Malcolm X in Texas public schools. Or in college, and I was a geography minor that entailed several anthropology and history classes. Somehow I naturally figured out who Malcolm X was through my own means, and all I knew was that he was a leader for social injustice and basic civil rights. Beyond that, I didn’t know much. While preparing for my review, I discovered that there aren’t a lot of writings about his life before becoming Malcolm X. It was interesting to learn about Malcolm Little from his youth.
- Fictionalized Perspective. While X is a novel about the formative years about the boy who grew up to become Malcolm X, it is important to distinguish and remember that this is still historical fiction. It is a fictionalized account of his youth. It is not from the perspective of Malcolm Little, but rather from one of his daughters based on stories she heard about her father growing up following his assassination when she was three years old.
- Anticlimatic. Given this is a fictionalized perspective, it is biased but also contains more depth than other sources could provide. While listening it seemed that some of Malcolm’s decisions were idealized. There did not seem to be real closure to the book. It ended with Malcolm’s imprisonment when he was 20, followed by end notes distinguishing the facts from the fiction. This section contained pretty detailed information that was helpful. It would have been more helpful at the front, especially for audio. Reading this section set the tone for hope for what we know was to come for Malcolm, but I didn’t feel the actual book’s ending arrived there. I was left wanting something more out of the ending for such a compelling narrative.
- Setting. There are several settings to the book. The storyline travels from Malcolm’s birth in Omaha to his childhood in Flint and Lansing, and then to his youth in Roxbury (Boston) and Harlem, concluding with Malcolm’s imprisonment. The vibrancy in the description and the lives of Roxbury and Harlem particularly captured my attention. In the context of the environment in which he grew up in, Malcolm’s choices stem from the oppression and racism inflicted on his family. The murder of his father and institutionalization of his mother and being forced into foster care during this time had very invasive effects. The timeline moves fluidly back and forth in time.
- Spiraling. Malcolm is a good student. He’s very smart and makes straight As. He also had a wild streak in him that started with small things, like stealing food for his family. Malcolm saw the face of racism in high school, and then understands his white peers are not being friendly. His (half) sister Ella invites him to live with her in Boston, and Malcolmn jumps at the opportunity to leave Lansing. It is a fresh start in a new place. From there his life begins spiraling out of control for most of the book. There are harsh realities when Malcolm discovers jazz, alcohol, drugs, and women – a white woman named Sophia, specifically – which is why I do not suggest this be read by students younger than 9th grade. It seemed the plot lent itself to compounding on every bad decision Malcolm makes, almost like it is a contest to see how bad he can be the next time.
- Disillusion. Malcolm’s beliefs of a fresh start in Roxbury don’t last long. He finds that the glittering city life doesn’t provide a means of escape from the racism that filled the hearts and souls of so many. After experiencing Harlem, Malcolm decides that is where he needs to be. Trouble comes knocking again, and Malcolm returns to Roxbury, where Sophia has cooked up a plan that will allow Malcolm, herself, and two others to come into a surplus of funds. Ultimately Malcolm is caught by the police and sent to prison and truly starts over. It is made clear that Malcolm’s self-destructive behavior is the effect of his disillusionment with his father’s teachings about pride and equality and his feeling that there was nothing he could do to change things.
- Lack of Redemption. While reading, I couldn’t ever find anywhere where Malcolm felt remorse for any of his actions. It was hard to read about Malcolm’s throwing bad choice after bad. His sister Ella gave him opportunities and encouragement. Instead of realizing her disapproval was due to his dangerous choices, he ran from the one good thing in his life. I describe my grandfather as a hard man, unyielding and abrasive, and this was a hard read. I didn’t see any hope for redemption. I think that is why I wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion of the book.
- Malcolm’s Character. I didn’t like Malcolm’s character for the majority of the book. He chooses to do certain things he knows is against the law and can land him in serious trouble, like illegally owning a gun and dealing “white powder.” There were several scenes regarding these two elements that show a paranoid Malcolm, but he continues to grow arrogant. If the world won’t give it to him, he will take it by whatever means he chooses, namely dealing drugs and being a thief. There is no will or want in him to be a better person, and that was something that resonated with me. It goes against everything I have ever been taught. Even as I write this I have to remember the environment he grew up in. If all you know is debilitating racism, why would you want to be a better person?
While I didn’t agree with Malcolm’s spiraling behavior and his choices, I also saw the naivety that still resided in him as a young man running wild. To love a white woman in this time was danger in and of itself. I don’t know everything about the Civil Rights Movement, but I know more than some, and I realize what I don’t know. The black spots on my map, so to speak, and learning new little pieces from this narrative are compelling enough to prompt readers to continue expanding their knowledge about leaders and lives during this tumultuous time.