02 February 2011

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

Thirteen-year-old Sam and older brother Stick are the sons of civil rights activist, Roland Childs, who is well-known for his work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and their commitment to nonviolence.  The Childs family is pretty well-off, but they live in Chicago, a socially diverse community, and many of the black kids who go to school with Sam are caught up in trying to improve conditions for themselves and their families.  And even those who aren’t politically-inclined are still living with many of the consequences of their race.  Sam’s brother Stick is increasingly frustrated with how black people are treated, and when their friend Bucky is arrested for assaulting a white police officer (despite the eye-witness account from Sam that Bucky is innocent), Stick and his friends just can’t let the injustice go unanswered.  Ignoring his father’s plea for nonviolence, Stick believes more firmly in the Black Panthers’ methods of standing up for themselves.  Sam is caught in between loyalty to his brother and respect for his dad, and ultimately he realizes that he must find is own path – he can’t be both the rock AND the river.

Told from Sam’s point of view, the reader travels the distance from innocence to experience, and discovers that experience necessitates both losses and gains.  The background information about the civil rights movement of 1968 and the development of the Black Panther Party becomes timeless in Kekla Magoon's careful descriptions (including a short author’s note), and most readers will learn something as they get involved with the characters in the story.

Recommended to all middle grade readers, including those who might not think the topic sounds interesting – once you get this story started, you might not want it to end so soon.
Call number: YA MAGOON (Teen Room)
Reviewed by kate the librarian.

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