Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Sometimes when an incident occurs eyewitnesses have a different take on what exactly occurred. What they see is often colored by their experiences and prejudices. That is the case in Kekla Magoon's fantastic book for teens called How It Went Down which deals with the fall out from the killing of an unarmed black teenager called Tariq by a man named Jack Franklin. As (bad) luck would have it Franklin just happens to be white.
The premise appears ripped from the headlines what with the recent unrest in Florida and in Ferguson, Missouri. One of the better drawn characters is the preacher Pastor Sloan who is conflicted with his role. On one hand he is scoring political points which help bolster his campaign for office, on the other hand he has a son of his own with whom he does not have the best relationship. the Pastor also has to resist the temptations that come with his standing.

Written in small first person vignettes that slowly reveal the characters' relationship if any with the victim, Magloon paints a picture of a neighborhood trying its best to deal with the aftermath of the youth's killing.  This killing is especially hurtful because while Tariq was no angel his death was completely unavoidable. The killing reverberates in several other ways too and causes the beautiful Jennica to examine her relationship with gang member Noodle. At first she is aghast at his callous reaction to the Tariq's death but gradually she begins to examine her life and what she wants out of it.

Tariq was flirting with joining a gang and the gang's leader Brick feels that he was closer to joining than he really was. Through the eyes of the youngest member of the group, Tyrell we see how he Tariq, Sammy, Junior and youth were close knit but drifted apart as the call of the streets became too strong.  Junior is in jail serving a long sentence for a crime that he took the rap for. Sammy is afull-fledged member of the group and is determined to climb the ranks.

The role of fathers is underscored and by far the most fatherly figure is Steve Conners who seems to care more about his step son than Tyrell's own biological dad. To say the two enjoy a frosty relationship putting it mildly. Tyrell is academically gifted and is determined to go to college and become the first one in his circle and his family to do so. Though it is not overtly stated it seems that his father feels threatened by his son's upward mobility. Besides the father-son dynamic there is also a class divide apparent. Steve implores Will not to return to the hood and his disdain towards the denizens of that part of town is apparent.

This is a fantastic read that rings to light many societal ills and many issues within the African-American community. It is telling that the older African American males who are in a position of power and influence make no attempt to mentor or provide some sort of guidance for these at-risk youth. Also Pastor Sloan himself admits that were the shooter another young black male he most likely would not have been as visible and as vocal in the press and on tv.  This is a timely read and while it does not delve deeply into issues that need to be addressed, it at least starts a discussion.

You can read this and other reviews on my personal site here.

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