Rummanah Aasi
  Looking back at my history classes in elementary and secondary schools, I don't recall learning about the Black Panther organization when I studied about the Civil Rights Movements. Though I know that the organization existed, the nonviolent movement spear headed by Dr. Martin Luther King was the main focus. While reading Kekla Magoon's Coretta Scott King award winning novel, The Rock and the River, I learned a lot about the difficulties the African American community faced during the turbulent 1960s.

Description: It is 1968 in Chicago. Sam's father is a well-known nonviolent civil rights activist who strongly believes in Dr. King's movement. Sam's brother, Stephen also known as Stick, feels that the nonviolent movement is too passive and has joined the Black Panthers. When a close friend of the brothers is beaten and arrested by white police officers, Sam must decide his own feelings about the Civil Rights Movement and choose a side. Will it be the rock or the river?

Review: The Rock and the River is a compelling novel that aptly conveys the frustrations and uncertainties dividing the civil rights movement at the time of Dr. King's death especially within one African American family. Sam is the son of minister and civil-rights leader Roland Childs, a revered community figure and movement heavyweight whose counsel is sought by Martin Luther King Jr. When Sam witnesses one of his close friends brutally beaten and arrested by the police, he does not get involved but instead joins the onlookers on the side of the road. Sam's passiveness taunts him and he finds his faith in and respect for his father's stalwart commitment to nonviolence shaken. Hoping to get some guidance from his older brother and best friend, he is shocked to discover that Stick is involved with the Black Panthers. Sam is torn between the two people he looks up to most.
  As he poignantly wrestles over which direction to take, Sam both observes and experiences firsthand the injustice of racism. Magoon is unflinching in her depictions of police brutality and racism. While it may be hard to read, it is not overly done but rather propels the plot and themes further. She also offers readers a perspective of a political group that is rarely explored. While some may think the Black Panther's ideology is romanticized, I thought the author provided enough information as to why and how this group was created. I loved how this novel shows that racial prejudices were not confined to the South and that the Civil Rights Movement was a truly national struggle. If the nonviolent movement is deemed too passive and the Black Panther movement is too aggressive, what movement is in between? Do you really have to choose one? These are the questions that swarmed my head long after finishing the book. I think The Rock and the River would serve as a great book discussion in class.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Words of Caution: There is some strong riot violence in the book and minor language. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.

If you like this book try: One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams or Jumped by Rita Garcia-Williams
5 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    This sounds like a powerful story, thanks so much for highlighting it Rummanah! I love books that make for good discussion, and this is clearly one of those since it kept you questioning after you read it. Beautiful review!


  2. Missie Says:

    Now that you mention it, I don't really recall studying the Black Panther organization, either. Such a shame.

    You're right, this one does sounds like it would be hard to read because of the brutality, but I appreciate that the author highlighted the real issues by revealing lesser known facts.


  3. This book sounds right up my alley, but I haven't been reading a ton of historical fiction lately. This sounds like a book to break that spree, with. What an amazing review, Rummanah. You always put things into such an amazing light. This part of history intrigues me more than most.

    Jen
    In the Closet With a Bibliophile


  4. Sounds very interesting. I always like reading about controversial events in history from a fictional perspective. It makes it easier to relate to.


  5. Lauren M Says:

    This book sounds so powerful! I can see how The Rock and the River would make a good discussion book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)


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