Monday, February 16, 2015

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabbaz

X:  A Novel by Ilyasah Shabbaz is a fictional account of the early part of Malcom X’s life as told by his daughter.  The novel is specifically targeted for a young adult readership.  I wanted to read this novel, and am so glad I did, because ages ago I read The Autobiography of Malcom X ages ago out of curiosity, having heard so many mixed messages about the man.  This was before the wonderful movie by Spike Lee, just to give you an idea of how long ago this was.  Comparing the two books is inevitable.  Fortunately, this novel lives up to all my expectations, give or take a few flaws.

The novel begins with Malcolm Little, living in Harlem, New York in 1945 and running from the threat of someone who thinks he is owed money.  Almost immediately, there are hints of the poetic moments that pepper the novel.   After the prologue the novel shifts back in time and forward and back again.  Eventually reaching where the novel began, in 1945, and moving even further forward into his story ending in 1948.  By not telling the story in a chronological manner, the author does a brilliant job of showing how the events of the boy inform the actions of the man. 

I was hooked from the beginning.  Although I knew the man’s story, from having read his autobiography, this young adult novel immerses the reader in the emotional turmoil of growing up as Malcolm did, during the Great Depression. Knowing his childhood struggles makes some of his later choices.  The curious reader will want to know why Malcolm is on the run as well as how he moved from Lansing, Michigan to Manhattan.

The final chapters seem to be a bit rushed, the final chapter in particular.  And there is one rather confusing error regarding Seventh Day Adventists but the average reader will not notice it. (They do not worship on Sunday so Malcolm and his family could hardly enjoy a Sunday meal after service.  Instead, they would be there on a Saturday.)

Tragically, so many of the societal issues that dictate Malcolm’s life are still too present in our society.  Reading about how white society uses intimidation and discrimination to keep the African-American community from progressing sounds too familiar and contemporary.  We may have made some progress but we’ve hardly left these things behind, as recent events have proven.  The book has a list of “Further Reading” books that include other young adult novels as well as classic books from Ellison, Wright, and Baldwin.  An excellent novel I hope finds a home in classroom curricula across our still racially conflicted country.

As soon as I finished reading this novel, I wanted to reread the Malcolm X’s autobiography.  If a generation of young readers find themselves wanting to learn more about Malcolm and are inspired to read further, great!  I would love to think a new generation of people will read his own words.  The novel has

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