Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014. 978-0805098693. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 9+.
Kekla Magoon tackles the difficult subjects of racism and gun violence in her intense and engaging novel. The plot is one that is familiar to anyone who has been keeping up with the news lately: a black teen is shot by a seemingly well-meaning white man, who is let go after police deem the shooting as self defense. Uncertainty and hearsay surround the story as no one really know whether or not Tariq had a gun or a Snickers bar, and whether or not he was a member of the Kings, a local gang. Magoon chooses to tell the story from the perspective of all of the people affected by the tragedy, which is an ambitious and powerful method of storytelling. Each character’s voice is unique and compelling. They range from Tyrell, Tariq’s best friend, to his little sister, the white man harboring the shooter, a black minister turned politician trying to capitalize on the tragedy to bolster his own career, the leader of the Kings, and many others. Magoon succeeds in telling the story of an urban area embroiled in violence and poverty, with characters who want to escape but have many factors working against them. Tyrell stands out as one who is struggling to remain true to his goal of attending college while resisting the pressure to join the Kings. I highly recommend this book for high school book clubs that enjoy deep discussion on current events and topics.
Realistic Fiction Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School
This book captivated me from the beginning, and caused me to reflect on my understanding of the current issues with violence and racism that are permeating the media. In the beginning I did have to remind myself of the many different characters as they appeared, since each character usually only has one or two pages devoted to their story at a time. The distinctive voices, however, do shine through and by the end I felt that I knew each person intimately, and identified with their hopes and dreams. All of the characters are dynamic. Moogan could have fallen into the trap of making the characters reflect stereotypes, but she gives each character a backstory that completely changes the reader’s judgement of the character. Since many of my students have been discussing the various cases in the news, I am nominating this book to be read in our student book club. I am going to also share it with our sociology teacher, as I think that selections of the text would be perfect to read and discuss in her classes.