BookPage Teen Top Pick, November 2014
Kekla Magoon’s books just keep getting better. The first time I read her work, I was serving on the Coretta Scott King Awards committee, and we honored Magoon with the Steptoe New Talent Award for The Rock and the River. So it’s with special pride that I look forward to each of her subsequent releases.
A review of How It Went Down could read like a cliché: “ripped from the headlines . . . as fresh as the morning paper . . . as gripping as any story on the nightly news.” But this book is not cliché at all. Written shortly after the death of Trayvon Martin and published shortly after the killing of Michael Brown and the response in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s a hard book to read without flashing back to headlines.
It’s the story of one young man, Tariq Johnson, who is shot while walking down the street at 5:30 p.m. by a white man who drives away in a borrowed car. Though Tariq carried no weapon, the shooter claims self-defense and is released after questioning. What might have been a linear story is made much more interesting as many of the survivors—grief-stricken, angry family members, gang friends and neighbors—reveal their own tales. Each person has an attachment to Tariq, and each tries to figure out the truth.
The reader gets caught in the same maze as everyone else: Who was Tariq? What happened on that afternoon? These hundreds of vignettes, with their varying narrators and conflicting perspectives, could leave the reader confused, but Magoon keeps a firm hand on her story. We may never find the answers we’re looking for, but after reading this book, we will look at the headlines with a much more critical eye.
This is not only a book to read in one gulp; it’s a book that asks you to slow down and read it over and over again. It’s an important, compelling story that everyone should read, especially high school students trying to make sense of our supposed post-racial world.