X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. Candlewick Press. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.
The Plot: The boyhood and teen years of Malcolm Little, who would become Malcolm X. Malcolm's family was both close and fractured: his father died when he was young. His mother, left with a large family and little support, was committed. Malcolm went into foster homes and then later moved in with a family member in Boston.
In Boston, as a teen, he saw more appeal in the nightlife of the city than in the respectable choices his half-sister has made. One bad choice leads to another, but to Malcolm, they're never the bad choices. They are his choices.
And as the reader who knows a bit about Malcolm, who knows that it's in prison for theft that an adult Malcolm converts to Islam, it's about seeing how Malcolm becomes that man.
The Good: I'm that reader who knows "a bit" about Malcolm X, which meant that I vaguely knew the bare bones of his story, particularly his life as a child and a teen.
X: A Novel did so many wonderful things, starting with showing why crime appealed to the young Malcolm. (Book talking tip: instead of selling this as a work of historical fiction, talk up the the aspect of why crime can be appealing.)
Actually as I give that tip, I have to add, that is too simplistic -- it's not as if there was a simple, easy choice. It's that Malcolm had been told that as a young black man his choices were limited when it came to education and career, and on the street, hustling or stealing, his choices were not limited. It's that Malcolm had had a close family and then it split apart (in part because the social services at the time were not committed to really helping a family, and in part because Malcolm's mother had a struggle to find work). It's that, well, you could see the immediate results of that life, the fun, the clothes, the parties, that you didn't see in a classroom. It's all tied together.
Or, better, let me share Malcolm's words: "When I first set foot in Harlem, I was a step ahead of everything. I could blend in with the jive cats, swirl the Lindy ladies. let my feet groove, think of nothing but the now. I could close my eyes and in closing them not be seen. Slip into the seams of the streets and let them swallow me. It was a glorious fit, so seemingly warm."
It takes a while for Malcolm to realize that it is not warm, it is seemingly warm. A long time. The book ends with Malcolm embracing Islam and starting to realize where best to direct his energy, his time, his talent.
X: A Novel comes with a great deal of back matter, including an author's note by Shabazz, one of Malcolm X's daughters; information about the characters in the book; a time line of events; and a historical context to the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.
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