I would never have come across this book if I hadn’t taken part in the Litsy A to Z challenge.
It’s a novelisation of the life of Malcolm X, from his birth to his childhood in Lansing, Michigan, where his father dies and his mother gets sent to a state hospital after a breakdown, and he and his siblings get split up into foster homes. Later he moves to Boston to stay with his half-sister, he’s an intelligent kid, the kind who breezes through school. But he’s more interested in making a living, although not necessarily with legal methods.
I loved how the book is filled with the sights, sounds and smells of the times. From the dandelion greens soup and the stale bread the family eats to the zoot suits, music and dancing of the city, to the sundaes and sodas of the neighborhood diner where Malcolm works.
And how Malcolm X’s story shows us that he wasn’t perfect. He made some terrible choices, hung out with the wrong crowd, got arrested for stealing but eventually found his way, even if he had to go to prison to figure that out.
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian – Sherman Alexie
And from the streets of the big cities we head to the Spokane reservation, where Junior is a buddding cartoonist, born with many medical problems and picked on almost everyone. He decides to leave the reservation school and attend the all-white school in the nearby town. And is seen as a traitor for playing for their basketball team.
Indian families stick together like Gorilla Glue, the strongest adhesive in the world.
It’s a sad and difficult story to read, whatever your age – poverty, far too many funerals, alcoholism, hunger. And perhaps the worst of all is that feeling of hopelessness in the reservation, the feeling that this is the way things are and there’s nothing they can do about it. But somehow Junior manages to overcome that and fight for a better life for himself.
“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.
You can do it.
I’m not typically a YA reader but I thought these two books were really great reads, and I look forward to introducing them to my kids one day.