Review: The Rock and the River, Kekla Magoon

If I may borrow a phrase from Renay, this book punched me in the soul. I have a thing where anything about slavery and civil rights struggles and that business immediately makes my heart hurt and then when the inevitable family member dies or gets sold or whatever, I cry and cry, and that’s why I don’t really read that many historical fiction books from those periods. But Jill said The Rock and the River was good, and I happened to see it at the library, so there you go. I had the hugest lump in my throat from page 3 onward, and towards the end of the book I was bawling messily.

(My puppy came into my bedroom while I was crying and rested her head on the side of my bed. And I thought, Oh, Jazz is worried about me, what a good dog; so I got off my bed and put her in my lap and snuggled her, and after about two seconds of this she ran away and got her tennis ball and spat it onto my lap. After that I had a hard time not suspecting her motives.)

The Rock and the River is about two brothers, Sam and Stick, the sons of prominent (but fictional) civil rights figure Roland Childs. When one of the boys’ friends is brutally beaten by the cops, Stick becomes involved with the Black Panther movement. He has to do this more or less covertly, because his father is part of the nonviolent peace movement and disagrees with the Panthers’ aims. In the midst of all kinds of 1968 racial violence, Sam is trying to figure out who he is and what he stands for.

In the afterword to this book, Magoon notes that schools tend to lionize Martin Luther King’s nonviolent approach to attaining civil rights while criticizing the Black Panthers for violence and general unruliness. This, um, happened in my education. So for that alone, I’m really glad I read this book, which casts a critical eye on gun violence while still spending time on the social activism of the Black Panthers (opening health clinics, working as advocates for black people accused of crimes, etc.). I shall now go forth and read more about the Black Panthers and then presumably have a less cartoony view of how they worked.

What a great book. The relationship between the brothers (I have a thing for sibling relationships too) is so strong and moving. Good sibling relationships in books reduce me to mush, and I want to run around flailing my arms and sobbing “They love each other! They want to protect each other!” Basically, Kekla Magoon should write lots more books, which I will only read when I am willing to have my soul punched.

Other people who read it:

Rhapsody in Books (thanks for the recommendation!)
Page 247
Maw Books
bookshelves of doom
The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Readingjunky’s Reading Roost

Anyone else?

44 thoughts on “Review: The Rock and the River, Kekla Magoon

  1. This definitely sounds like a sad but good read. I enjoy historical fiction but don’t read a lot of it so I’m always open to suggestions. This sounds like one I should really read so thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  2. DID YOU CHANGE YOUR BLOG SOMEHOW. It looks different.

    Also! I just read Malcolm X’s autobiography; you may have noticed my tweets complaining about its length. But anyway: YOU should read it, too! It’s actually really good for learning more about the different sides of what was going on in the early 1960s.

    If you find a good book about the Black Panters let me knooooooow, please, because I want to read it, too.

    • I DID NOT. It is just the same as ever. I mean I changed the header in June, and in mid-August I took away the Diana Wynne Jones Week button, but I haven’t changed anything since then. I am very lazy, you see.

      I am on a hunt. I am determined to find a good book about the Black Panthers, and when I do, I will alert you.

  3. I am right there with you — there are a lot of books that the storyline can be so heart-wrenching that I usually skip it because I can’t handle that much crying. And I blubber away. I mean, there are certain sections of the last Harry Potter book that I was bawling so much.

    Anyway, though — I might need to check this book out, and be a little strong about reading it. I don’t have the little puppy, but I have a youngish dog and a cat, so they may need to stay with me at all times.

    Great review of this book!

    • I limit my very-sad reading to young adult fiction, quite often. I’m not sure what this is in aid of, because lots of YA fiction (looking at you, Markus Zusak) is as intense and tragic as anything written for grown-ups. And then I let lots of time go by between sad books.

  4. I adore being punched in the soul (liteary masochist, me) and I’m a total sucker for anything with good sibling relationships. I’m totally checking to see if my library has this.

    • I know that you do! I do too, really, when I am in a place to handle it. I read The Rock and the River all in one go on a lazy Sunday afternoon, which gave me plenty of time for weeping, but I’d have had a harder time with it if I’d been, like, trying to exercise while reading it. 😛

      (I’m kidding. I hate exercising, I almost never exercise.)

  5. My husband has educated me a lot about how the Black Panthers helped people and communities- I never heard any of that in school either. But I never read any books on the subject.

    And I laughed when I read how your dog ran for her ball! Fickle pets ha ha. I always think my cats snuggle with me because they love me so much but hubby points out they don’t ever snuggle with me in summer when its hot but cuddle in bed all the time in winter!

    • Yeah! My puppy is very affectionate, but she is always planning how to get me to chase her or throw her toys for her.

      I really want a nonfiction book on the Black Panthers. Your husband doesn’t happen to know of any good ones, does he? 😀

  6. Ha about the puppy cuddles. Clearly, he has priorities. Your sorrow comes first (for three seconds) then his happy playtime. You should be flattered!

    Our cat will come into the kitchen and stare at us and get under our feet and meow piteously if we bickering mildly while cooking. “It’s okay, we’re not mad, we still like you!” we say. When really he is just saying, “Shut up. I do not like conflict.”

    • I guess I am flattered. And pleased with the success of my project – I have been trying to train the puppy to catch the tennis ball in her mouth when I bounce it to her. At first she had no idea what she was supposed to do, but she has caught on and now super loves playing this game. :p

  7. I LOVE this book! I actually read it right around the second whitewashing cover fail and everything sort of seemed connected. Totally not a coincidental read that the whitewashing and my reading of the book happened over MLK weekend.

    Since I’m a total history dork I knew a little more about the Black Panthers, but not as much as I do now thanks to The Rock and The River and One Crazy Summer (by Rita williams Garcia. It’s MG. A Must read! It has great sister relationships and an absentee mother instead of absentee father which is nice to see in lit about AAs. *ahem* anyway). I seriously consider what side I would be on during this time. I think I would have sided with MLK but at the same time, I would be so FRUSTRATED I could total get why the Black Panthers formed.

    And ❤ Stick

    Civil rights books tend to inspire me more. I want to continue blogging/speaking out, etc. Slavery books upset me and usually (not the book's fault) I end up hurtling something or throwing across the room. haha

    • One Crazy Summer sounds wonderful! I’ll see if I can get it at my library.

      Yeah, Stick was such a great character. I kind of knew where the book was heading with him, but I kept hoping I’d be wrong. 😦

      Civil rights books are less gut-wrenching for me too, just because the characters have more options. But they still make me cry, and also they make me get on the internet and find all the interviews that were being conducted right after Obama got elected about how MLK’s dreams were being realized, and then I cry more. :p

    • I know! Damn education system! I’m actually really surprised we didn’t cover this more thoroughly in my AP history class, although it is certainly possible I had stopped paying attention by that point in the year. I don’t remember learning about World War II or Vietnam either. :p

  8. Great review, Jenny, and thanks for the link. I loved this book and want to see more like it. Having lived through that time and knowing people who were Panthers, I believe it is time we talk about how the government, the media and our educational system demonize groups who were struggling for freedom and autonomy.

    Another group going through a similar struggle during that time was the American Indian Movement. I’m hoping to see books for young adults based on the incident at Wooded Knee.

  9. Like Anastasia, I learned anything positive I know about the black panthers from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I read after the movie came out, sometime in the early 90s.

    Last night I was talking to my daughter and leaning against the wall near my (very tall) desk, and one of the cats on the desk suddenly stood up on his hind legs and whacked me on the mouth with a soft paw, which startled the heck out of me. Clearly, he was saying, it is time to pay attention to me. Dogs are so much more polite, if occasionally transparent.

  10. I think most people are educated in that manner when it comes to Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers. Your mention of that alone makes me want to read this book..

    • It’s really not a nice feeling to look back at my education and feel slightly brainwashed. By and large I had really good history teachers, too, so I’m not sure what went wrong there.

  11. Sounds like a good book. It’s nice that it adds more details about the Black Panthers, which I must have learned about similarly to you. I don’t know much about their social activism, just violence in comparison to other groups in the civil rights movement.

  12. Can I borrow? I wanna read this now! It sounds moving, and I too have a thing for sibling relationships. (Except of course OUR sibling relationship, which I mock incessantly.)

  13. If you think your dog is duplicitous, you should see my cat. Get them when they’re vulnerable – that’s her motto. If she saw me broken and crying on the bed she’d be getting me to saute her some sardines, comb her tail, throw her krinkeltoy, file her tax return …

    Great review – loved that ‘punched in the soul’ phrase – whether or not it’s your own, you use it well!

    • In fairness to my dog, she is very very snuggly as well as duplicitous. She likes to play but she also likes to be cuddled, and that can be nice when I am upset.

  14. Pingback: Learning about the Black Panthers « Jenny's Books

  15. Pingback: Wrapping up 2010 « Jenny's Books

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