Monday, January 18, 2010

Male Monday: The Rock and the River

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon 2009

Rating: 5/5

IQ "Look, as long as you think being a Panther just means carrying a gun, you won't be able to understand what's happening here. [...]It's the Panther's ideas that people fear most, not our guns. We're telling blacks that we can fix some of our problems ourselves, that we don't have to wait to be accepted into the white mainstream to have our day come. [....]It's the difference between demonstrating and organizing. Between waiting for handouts that aren't coming or taking care of each other the way we have to. It's the rock and the river, you know? They serve each other, but they're not the same thing." Stick pg. 231-231

I loved this book and it deserves all its honors. Today it was announced that The Rock and The River has won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award It has also been nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature for Youth/Teens

I decided to review this book in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It's very appropriate since the Rock and The River is about the civil rights movement. It tells the story of Sam Childs, son of a nonviolent civil rights protester, Roland Childs (a fictional character). Sam is thirteen years old and he really looks up to his seventeen year old brother, Steven (Sam calls him Stick). The boys are very close, they are best friends. Sam has never questioned his father's nonviolent methods until he finds Black Panthers literature under his brother's bed. Soon Stick joins the Black Panthers much to the dismay of his parents. Sam isn't sure whose right, his brother or his father. Especially as Sam witnesses more and more police brutality and the positive impact that the Black Panthers can have, compared to the seemingly more slow at creating change, non violent civil rights protest led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I don't want to make this review too long because I could just gush about this book all day. I'll start with the reading, it's beautiful. It's filled with lines like "Rough concrete pillars stood proud above the courthouse steps, looking weathered and bored, like they were tired of carrying the weight of the law on their shoulders." Great visualization and use of words. The meaning behind the title is very interesting and I liked seeing how it was hard to tell sometimes, who was the rock and who was the river. The question is more complex than Sam thought. Kekla Magoon does a great job of describing the dilemma Sam is in. Whose methods are right and more effective, the Black Panthers and Sam's brother or Dr. King, Sam's father and all their followers? This is such a hard decision for Sam because he and his brother are so close. I loved reading about their relationship, it was sweet and genuine. It had its fair share of rough patches and at times I feared that they wouldn't be able to patch up their relationship.

The author does a great job of remaining non judgemental and neutral in The Rock and The River. She provides an unbiased look at the Black Panthers and the nonviolent civil rights movement. She addresses the positives and negatives, the frustrations and hopes of both groups. She even gives a glimpse of underlying issues, such as how the Black Panthers treated women (it's very brief, but you can gather a bit of information from it). It also addresses the issue of classism. Based on what I've read, it seems that more middle too upper class African Americans supported the nonviolent methods and the lower/working class supported the Black Panthers. It makes for an engrossing read, learning about the goals of the Black Panthers (land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace). The Black Panthers all too often are villainized as "scary, radical, angry Black men" or ignored in books and in schools, this book shows their violent side but it also shows how they served free breakfasts, worked to open a free health clinic, paid for lawyers for African Americans who were falsely accused and protected African Americans from police brutality. They looked out for the underdog in more direct ways often with faster results. I also like how the novel really picks up after Martin Luther King Jr is assassinated. It describes the confusion of the time, is the movement dead? Whose the new leader? Should we retaliate?

The characters are wonderful. Sam and Stick were my favorites, although I really liked Maxie too. I liked them all really! The developing romance between Sam and Maxie is cute and realistic to children their age. I would have liked to read and learn a little more about Maxie and her role with the Black Panthers as well as her personal story. I did sort of expect the ending, although it was still mostly a surprise. The characters are authentic, flawed and complex. The plot is well developed and rarely predictable. It's never too preachy, you don't feel like you are being beat over the head with facts or life lessons. The Rock and the River is an important new addition to YA literature, especially YA historical fiction. It's about time we are presented with an original and new topic, the Black Panthers. 6th grade and up.

PS This book helped inspire me in writing my Open Letter to Bloomsbury. People put their life on the line for civil rights. My letter and the posts that others are writing, is a continuation of that fight. We are working to realize Dr. King's dream, by demanding diversity in publishing, by refuting the notion that books with people of color on the cover won't sell as well as books with white people on the cover.

And I've been interviewed! Check it out at Multiculturalism Rocks!


  1. I, too, so liked this book! I read it during the 48-hour Reading Challenge ( and found the book helped me "realize I was never forced to think about how many people outside my collegiate circles felt about the world at that time, what were the feelings of those outside the leadership circles throughout the country, how were children in various settings feeling? I was particularly impressed with Kekla’s ability to include with no apologies the matter of economic class and to develop naturally the discussions and actions surrounding “class”. And it is a book that allows a look at how children whose parents were part of the civil rights leadership might have felt and how they may have dealt with those feelings." Thanks for helping me recall the feel and the lessons from the book on this special award day which as you note is also MLK, Jr. day.

  2. I'm glad you liked the book, and I encourage everyone to read both this one and Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer, which I also loved. The Rock and the River had more political depth (which is appropriate for its YA audience), while the strength of One Crazy Summer was Delphine's struggle to understand and build a relationship with her mother.

  3. @Rasco-I commented on your reivew. I loved the book for all the same reasons and it was the best choice since today was a special award day and MLK Day. That's so very cool that this book took you back, I can't imagine reading historical fiction about a time period I lived through.

    @Lyn-I really liked Onne Crazy Summer too. Rock and River did have more depth and was more through and informative. I agree, I recommend both books.

  4. Ari, thank you for another insightful review.
    I'm dreaming of having a few days off that I will spent doing nothing but reading...

  5. I remember hearing about this book and i wanted to read it. Thanks for reminding me of it and for such a great review.


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