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?