Tag Archives: Ilyasah Shabazz

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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Book Review X by Ilyasah Shabazz (4/5)

12 Mar

This book was selected by the Michigan Humanities Council as the Great Michigan Read this time around. That means that we’ll have multiple book club discussions on it and that the author will be visiting the area to talk in the coming months. So get ready to see a lot more about this book! I’m glad it was one I enjoyed.

Cover image via Goodreads

X: a Novel by Ilyasha Shabazz with Kekla Magoon

Summary from Goodreads:

Malcolm Little’s parents have always told him that he can achieve anything, but from what he can tell, that’s nothing but a pack of lies—after all, his father’s been murdered, his mother’s been taken away, and his dreams of becoming a lawyer have gotten him laughed out of school. There’s no point in trying, he figures, and lured by the nightlife of Boston and New York, he escapes into a world of fancy suits, jazz, girls, and reefer.

But Malcolm’s efforts to leave the past behind lead him into increasingly dangerous territory when what starts as some small-time hustling quickly spins out of control. Deep down, he knows that the freedom he’s found is only an illusion—and that he can’t run forever.

X follows Malcolm from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at age twenty, when he found the faith that would lead him to forge a new path and command a voice that still resonates today.

Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and though her father was killed while he was a child, she’s done great work at retelling her father’s story. The book concentrates more on the time Malcolm spends in Boston with flashbacks to his childhood in Lansing and his relationship with his siblings. There is some about his time in New York and being sent to jail, but the focus is on Boston. Malcolm changed a lot in Boston so this is logical. It was interesting to see how quickly he could be lured away from what his father had always taught him and how quickly it seemed to be a good idea to move away from that. I liked how the story drew in major historical events from the time as well. Though Malcolm didn’t serve in the army, it was good to see how it affected his life and I’m glad it was mentioned.

Shabazz did a great job of including the details of her father’s life. The people he meets and interacts with seem very three dimensional except for Sophia. I felt she was too much of a stereotype and I couldn’t like her even from the beginning. She was so shady and sketchy that I couldn’t understand Malcolm’s attraction to her. With the way she played out in the end, it makes a bit more sense, but I never believed her as a character.

Ella was my favorite character. She’s more like a mother than a sister to Malcolm and I loved how much she cared for him and wanted good things for him. She was the guidance he needed but didn’t heed and I felt bad for her because she was so ignored when she was the voice of reason and good counsel. I liked how much she tried to help Malcolm. I felt that I would be like her and I would want her in my life if I weren’t her.

These weren’t characters I particularly related to and I think that’s what made me like the book. I know this is different from what I normally say, so hear me out. This book made me uncomfortable several times. This book focused on injustices and segregation that were at the hands of whites. There were many parts of this book that I know would not fly today but still made me angry to think that they’d happened at all. They made me embarrassed of the history of my country and particularly Michigan. I’m sure this could be said about a number of things and places and people but this book really drove home for me how different my life is from Malcolm’s.

Ilyasah Shabazz
Image via NJEA Convention

Malcolm’s time in New York was the most interesting and entertaining for me. I could feel the thrill of danger that he was feeding off of and the rush of excitement. I also felt when it was too much, like Malcolm did, and was glad to get out when it was time.

His time in jail was my least favorite only because it felt rushed and glossed over. His family was clearly a big influence on his conversion while there and he was very introspective. I felt that more time could have been spent here because these moments were critical in building him into the man he became. What came before, while interesting and entertaining, could have been shortened to spend more time on this major change.

People change. Malcolm is a great example of this. He went from a man making a living on the wrong side of the law to someone who preached religion. His roots were in political activism and his teenage years took him away from that. But he came back. Young people have to be forgiven their trespasses. It’s one of the ways people grow. Not everyone needs to rebel to become who they’re meant to be, but many do, and it’s making sure they have a path back to a good life and that they can follow it that will grow healthy adults in a productive society.

Writer’s Takeaway: The book did a great job of showing racial injustice. Malcolm’s relationship with Sophia demonstrated this best but there were instances of work injustice and judicial injustice that made me uncomfortable and helped me realize how far our country has come toward equality because of people like Malcolm X. There is still far to go, but great leaders like Malcolm X and his contemporaries pushed for radical jumps that were needed.

I liked this book and I enjoyed binge-reading it on an airplane. It was the distraction I needed from sleep deprivation and hunger. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 1940-1959 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Ilyasah Shabazz on Why She Doesn’t Feel Pressure As the Daughter of Malcolm X [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW] | The Ed Lover Show
Drew hosts Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X | The Drew Acorn
Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X reflects on his life and legacy | WGN9