The daughter of Malcolm X, along with award-winning author Kekla Magoon, have put together an amazing fictionalized historical novel that portrays X’s adolescence.
The novel begins Harlem in 1945, with 20-year-old Detroit Red (Malcolm) seemingly in trouble with a mobster. As he notes, “I am my father’s son. But to be my father’s son means that they will always come for me.” Then we flash back to Lansing, Michigan in 1940, where Malcolm is a 15-year-old leaving his six siblings to live in Boston with his half-sister Ella. The novel continues to flash back and forth in time as we learn about Malcolm, his siblings, their upbringing, the death of his father in a supposed trolley accident, the institutionalization of his mother, and the separation of the family’s children (with Malcolm becoming a part of the foster care system).
The effect of the back-forth narration is a bit frustrating at times—perhaps this is what Malcolm was feeling at the time too. He was trying to get his feet on the ground with who he was and what he believed in but instead sought thrills in life and essentially left his family and their principles behind.
It’s obvious that Malcolm was still dealing with the feelings of hurt from his father and mother’s absence during his teenage years, and he notes that “I believed in Papa’s stories a lot longer than I should have.” This disillusionment of these ideals set forth by the family (who lived in poverty after Earl’s death) forces Malcolm to grapple with his parents’ hopes and dreams, which were in contrast with his reality: “Papa only knew how to stand up, how to never bow down. Mom, too. So the white world sliced and diced them.”
The self-destructive behaviors that follow in Boston and Harlem are well known: gambling, selling pot, drinking, smoking week, thievery, and more. Clearly, he was seeking something: “I started to feel restless, an itching under my skin that I didn’t know how to scratch. One that couldn’t be scratched, maybe.”
Each chapter is loaded with information and emotion, and the reader is acutely aware of how each of these experiences shape the civil rights leader Malcolm would later become. All of it builds to a magnificent crescendo of flurried activities (legal and otherwise) until he is caught and ends up in prison, which makes all of the chaotic moments halt. Malcolm is forced to slow down, reflect, and decide whether to move forward.
And, as many of us know, prison is where X meets the written word: “I read the dictionary again with a new understanding. Find words that I know. Words I couldn’t have guess in a million years. Words that make me chucks and blush. Words that make me remember.” These words also lead him to his religious awakening to Allah and the nation of Islam.
The lyrical prose throughout the novel adds to the symphony of the work, and it’s intriguing to contemplate how a leader’s daughter researched her father’s upbringing in order to understand not only her family background but to determine which experiences ultimately influenced who her father became later in life. His legacy shines through these words, and it’s truly a remarkable thing.
Ilyasah discusses the book at the following link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/23/malcolm-x-daughter-book_n_6738394.html
*Kekla Magoon will be one of the featured speakers at the Colorado Teen Literature Conference in 2016.