This skillfully rendered novel traces Malcolm X's life through flashbacks, from his father's death to his imprisonment and eventual understanding of his father’s wisdom. X reads like a biography, in part because the author is Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz, written with the multiple award-winning Kekla Magoon.
Against the backdrop of the racist 1930’s, Malcolm is a promising student until a teacher tells him he won’t amount to much because of his color. This conversation sends 15-year-old Malcolm on a downward spiral across state and ethical lines.
The circular storytelling pattern works well as readers experience Malcolm’s struggles and insights right along with him. In Boston he is seduced by the underbelly of society and eventually moves to Harlem for more action. Wanted by a numbers racket boss, he flees New York, and when back in Boston, he engages in a hustle that lands him in jail.
Throughout Malcolm’s many tribulations, he searches for his true self. Eventually he, like the story, comes full circle, and Malcolm fully embraces his father’s words: “You can be and do anything you put your mind to.”
The book contains racial slurs, and readers will encounter episodes of alcohol and drug use, sex, violence, as well as a description of the aftermath of a lynching, though none are extremely graphic. The publication of this book marks the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination (February 21) and is a worthy tribute to the man.