How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
I’m always on the lookout for diverse books, especially if they are culturally relevant. The Chancellor recommended me two books: Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down and Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give. I’m currently reading the latter, so you’ll get to read my review later this weekend (I hope), but I just finished the former, and it was an interesting, engaging, thought-provoking book.
Tariq Johnson leaves a convenience store buying groceries, when the owner chases after him, shouting, “Come back!” A white man stops him to intervene, young black men rise up, and then, with the shout of “He’s got a gun!” another white man comes up and fatally shoots Tariq. This is all we know. The rest of the story is told in pieces from multiple perspectives: the owner, Tariq’s best friend Tyrell, Jennica, the young woman who gives him CPR, Brick, the unofficial gang leader who was trying to initiate Tariq and Tyrell, Tariq’s sister Tina who has special needs, and the Rev. Alistair Sloane who has a senatorial campaign at stake. The story is at turns frustrating and lyrical, evasive and honest. It shows the danger of a single story, as well as the way we frame a narrative to suit a particular need.
This was a solid 4-star book for me. It is well-written and engaging, a fast book to dive into, and one that critiques the media treatment of crimes committed against black teenagers. I think Magoon could have trimmed out a few voices in her narrative, and there just isn’t the same emotional connection you get from All American Boys, but it’s a worthy read, nonetheless.
1984 by George Orwell
I feel like the last week or so has been spent chasing down book club selections (and I even missed the CBR Book Club, which was unfortunate, although the reviews have not exactly been glowing—so maybe it wasn’t a tragedy to have missed out?). This Sunday marks my regular book club meeting—A has chosen George Orwell’s 1984, which seemed terribly fitting, since the United States has a president who is being praised for not pooping on stage (that’s only the barest of exaggerations. I mean, the media is cooing over how he choked his broccoli down like a big boy, when he’s a GROWN ADULT) and is now actively engaging in acts of intellectual dishonesty, historical revisionism, and willful stupidity. I was eager to revisit the book for the first time in over 12 years, because it seemed terribly and sadly relevant.
Winston Smith is our protagonist, and he lives in a world populated by a faceless state and governed by the monolithic Big Brother. He engages in re-writing history to suit the particular narrative the state requires (are they at with Eurasia or Eastasia? That answer will constantly change throughout the book). In the middle is the confusing attention he receives from a young woman who is part of the Anti-Sex League and his growing restlessness with his lot in life. It all comes hurtling forward in a shocking and provocative conclusion.
Okay, people, real talk comes now. I read this book for the first in 2004 when I turned 20 years old (yes, I was born in 1984, so this book does have some sort of ideological meaning). It blew my mind, because, as my sister puts it, I was at the age of maximum impact to be affected by it. I really think she’s right. High school and early college is the best time you can read this book, because getting older and more well-read will make you question a lot of things. For example, Orwell’s narrative involves a fairly sex-negative and patriarchal subplot that turns a woman into a sexual object and degrades her somewhat for male enjoyment. Blech. Then, there’s the craft itself. Having read Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451, and The Handmaid’s Tale after 1984, I would say that Orwell’s prose absolutely pales in comparison to the others, particularly Bradbury’s and Atwood’s. I’d also say the plot can be fairly didactic and has an individualistic streak that would make Ayn Rand glow with ogreish pride. In fact, there were many points that reminded me of Rand’s Anthem, and I do not mean this as a compliment. I’m glad I re-read this book, but I think some of the luster of my youth has worn off, and I’m a bit past the point of being as deeply moved as when I was a kid. Time for a re-read of some other dystopian novels, I think.