Monday, July 12, 2010

The Rock and the River

The best fiction is the kind that allows you to walk in the shoes of a person whom you could never be otherwise. This is one of those books.

Sam is growing up during the Civil Rights movement in Chicago. His father is an important figure in Dr. King's work, and his older brother has become a member of the Black Panther Party.

Sam sees two versions of everything. Should he follow his father's nonviolent methods of protest or his brother's more hands-on, gun-toting way. Sam's family lives in an affluent suburb of Chicago, but his girlfriend (the spunky Maxie) lives in the projects. Should he be the rock or the river?

The writing in this novel was wonderful, never lecture like, and serves as an eye opener for readers. I would have liked a little more of a historical background in the beginning of the book, but there is a nice history in the back pages. My concern there is that a reader unfamiliar with the history of the Civil Rights Movement may not understand the setting or why events occur.

I was struck by several scenes, but the one that stood out the most for me was when Sam went into the hospital to buy a pair of mittens. The racist shopkeeper puts Sam through hell, but Sam shows his excellent character by handling the jerk with grace.

Later, when riots break out over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Sam throws a brick through a shop window because it felt better than not doing anything.

The climax is realistic and unfortunate. Sam comes into his own by the end of the novel.

I loved that Sam valued his family and his education. I also admired him for his work in the community, and the reader is left with the feeling that Sam will continue this work.

Bravo to Magoon for creating such a wonderful character in Sam, and for allowing readers to dip into this era of American history.