X, a novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Candlewick Books, 2015. ISBN 9780763669676
(Ages: 14+) Highly recommended. Civil rights. Racism. Black Muslims. Ilyasah Shabazz recreates in novel form the story of her father Malcolm X's early adolescent life trying to survive in the brutal times of the Ku Klux Klan lynchings and 'strange fruit' hanging in trees. The early years of a poor but happy childhood, surrounded by brothers and sisters growing up in family warmth and strong in his parents' proud beliefs in learning, teaching and leading, are marred by the pivotal moment when the school teacher Malcolm so admires, casually crushes his aspirations and self-belief. It is then that Malcolm loses connection with everything that had kept his family strong and is plunged along a path of drugs and scams continually trying to prove that he is tougher and smarter than the rest in the backstreet underworld of Boston, and then Harlem New York.
Shabazz captures perfectly the youthful self-talk and swagger of Malcolm in his new identity of street hustler 'Red'; we live within his world and share his thoughts and outlook, yet are aware at the same time of the careless hurt he causes his family, his sister Ella, his girlfriend Laura, and more than anything else the harm he brings to himself.
It is only when Malcolm reaches his lowest point, in prison, that he gradually comes to a reconnection with the memory of his father and the principles and values his father stood for. He rediscovers in Islam his faith in Allah, pride in his race and in himself as a person and his potential to stand up for the rights of others - the beginning of his path as a black leader and civil rights activist.
Not only is this book an evocative insight into African American life in a historical period with the rise of civil rights campaigns, it is a timely and relevant novel for today - about a lone disengaged youth who comes to discover strength in the true principles of Islam, not militancy and terrorism, but the power of standing strong in non-violence, caring for his fellow man and speaking out against oppression and injustice, speaking out with words and with truth.