Book Club Reflection: X by Ilyasha Shabazz

20 Mar

Here is the first of my two book club discussions that focused on Ilyasah Shabazz’s novel X about her father, Malcolm X. I think it’s worth noting that my two book clubs are a bit different in focus. This club tends to focus a bit more on ‘strange’ books, ones that make you think and take a very different point of view. The other is a much more traditional book club. I think it will be interesting to see how the two different groups perceive the book.

Our leader told us that people in other discussion groups had a hard time with reading a fictionalized account of an actual person. Like the last book our group read, The Paris Wife, this book had to take great liberties as to exact dialogue and fill-in action to account for what’s not known. No one in our group had specific complaints about this, but some in different discussion groups believed that without accurate details, the whole thing was too fictionalized to be taken as fact. I can see that, but I feel that it’s the overall truth, where and who and when, that tells the story, not the specific words that tell the story. The book is aimed at a YA audience and children of this age may be slightly more inclined to believe that every word was true. We thought to call out that the book is a novel on the cover may have been aimed at that age cohort.

I mentioned my opinion that the end of the book seemed rushed and another reader felt that it was more like a teaser for learning about the rest of Malcolm’s life. A few recommended his biography to continue learning about him. The conversion he experienced in prison is true, but we felt the men who pushed him on that path were a bit too convenient, saying things exactly when he was ready to hear them. It was a return to his roots and probably a more gradual process than the book had time for.

Louise Little’s institutionalization was a catalyst in Malcolm’s life. We questioned if she really should have been institutionalized but it’s hard to tell from this novel. She could have been an activist who was deemed a threat to public stability. Or, if she really did need to be institutionalized, she could have suffered from post-partem depression or even PTSD. Given the time period of the depression, it’s easy to see how taking care of eight children would be hard. We questioned the fine line between being too proud to accept public handouts and having hungry children at home. We did notice the comments about the vegetable garden and chicken coop having fallen apart since their father died so maybe she really was neglectful.

There were so many times that Malcolm made the wrong decision when you felt things were finally going to turn around for him. Like many young people, he thought he was invincible. He would never be the one to be lynched or go to jail. That happened to other people, but not him.

The comment Malcolm’s teacher made to him destroyed him and set him on a poor path into the future. He had a very high opinion of that teacher and until that moment he hadn’t experienced much racism in the classroom. He felt like what his father and mother had preached was true, that he could raise himself up on merit. When his teacher said that to him, he internalized it as his father lying to him, not as the teacher pushing him down. When he saw the pride Ella had, he felt like she wasn’t being truthful either and that being pushed down in the dirt was where he was going to end up. It’s so disheartening to see how the comments of one man could steer a boy’s life onto such a destructive path. It really makes you think about what you say and how you can hurt another person.

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