Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Rock and the River Review

Book Talk: The year is 1968 and the civil rights movement is in full swing.  Sam's father is at the forefront of the non-violence movement, along with his mentor and friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Sam has grown up listening to his father stir up crowds and rallies and preach the tenets of non-violence, but when King is assassinated he begins to question if peaceful protest will ever be enough.  His older brother does more than just question his father's methods and becomes a member of the Black Panthers.  Sam loves both his father and his brother, and he can understand the reasons each chose their methods.  But during the increasing turmoil of the times he can't straddle the line between the two extremes forever.  Sam's life is swept along by the tide of both movements and when he realizes he can no longer return to the life he once knew he has to pick which path he will follow.

Rocks my socks: This is one of the most unflinching and well-written historical novels I have ever read.  It takes on difficult issues without backing down and performs an amazing balancing act with elements of historical fact, character development, and plot that resulted in a pitch-perfect novel that keeps you turning the pages while still providing occasional relief from the tension of the plot, which allows each pivotal moment to have all the more impact.  A lot of historical novels make the mistake of allowing historical events to entirely drive the plot and the result is characters that are basically stand-in guides through an era, but the characters in this novel are complex and layered fully developed, which really allows the reader to be immersed in the era and see events and care about them through the character's eyes.  The book left me without any definite answers but with a deeper understanding of the questions, and as far as I'm concerned that's the mark of a great book.

Rocks in my socks:  My eyes were so sore from crying by the time I finished the novel, which isn't a real complaint, but I'm hard-pressed to come up with any.  I do think the ending would have been more interesting if we hadn't found out what Sam's final choice was, if it had ended a few pages sooner.  It would have upset readers, but it would have got them talking and led to some interesting debates.

Every book its reader: This would be a good book to read as a class or in a discussion group both so that more historical context could be provided and because this book screams to be discussed.  I'd recommend it to 7th grade and up.

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon.

Support your local independent book store or check it out from your local library.

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