Review of X: A Novel

shabazz_xstar2 X: A Novel
by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
High School   Candlewick   375 pp.
1/15   978-0-7636-6967-6   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7425-0   $16.99

Shabazz, Malcolm X’s third daughter, and YA author Magoon (Fire in the Streets, rev. 9/12; How It Went Down, rev. 11/14) team up to present a vivid, immediate fictionalized portrait of the civil rights activist and the forces that shaped him. Readers are immersed in young Malcolm’s world, from his fractured and tragic Depression-era childhood in Lansing, Michigan (father killed, mother committed to an asylum, siblings placed in separate foster homes), through his heady teen years in Boston and Harlem (where “everything’s a hustle, and I got my own hustle now”), through his conviction and imprisonment for larceny, ending with his conversion to Islam in his mid-twenties. Thanks to the strength of the intimate first-person voice, readers experience right along with the adolescent Malcolm his thirst for excitement, the seductive “siren call” of 1940s Roxbury and Harlem street life, his increasingly risky and dangerous choices, and finally his growing awareness of the impact of racism on his and his family’s past and on his present and future. In prison: “The guard who knocks me down and puts his foot on my face…he didn’t build these walls. He didn’t invent the word nigger, however well he’s learned to throw it. It’s all so much bigger, and so built-in.” The direct cause-and-effect connection between Malcolm’s epiphany that he doesn’t need to “fight Papa” anymore and his acceptance of Islam feels imposed, but there’s very little else that doesn’t ring true in this powerful, compelling work of historical fiction. Extensive back matter includes a bibliography that steers young people toward further reading about Malcolm X and black history.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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