Winner: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award 2010
This weekend is ALA! That means pretty soon there will be a whole new BBYA list to be getting my recommendations from (though soon it could also be a much different list, as once more there is a proposal to significantly change BBYA. Read more at the Bookends blog, including my comments. I've posted previously about BBYA and my feelings on changing and/or eliminating it).
I wish I were going to ALA, either to support BBYA or just to check out the exhibits, lol. Was seriously considering it for awhile, as it'd be easy enough to hop on a bus to Boston and exhibit passes are only 25. But it's cold and I think I'm coming down with something (again), so maybe it's for the best. Maybe I'll go this summer when they're in DC?
Anyway: review time!
Chicago in 1968 was a bit of a crossroads, and in The Rock and the River, that crossroads is embodied in Sam Childs, son of the prominent civil rights activist Roland Childs. Roland's activism follows in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Dr. King has even been a dinner guest in the Childs' house more than once. Sam's brother, Stick, however, has found a different path he'd like to follow: the Black Panthers are in Chicago, and Stick is tired of waiting around for the white people to change.
As stresses between Stick and the family rise, Sam is also starting to date Maxie, a girl from his school who lives in the projects. When Sam is walking her home one day, he witnesses a clear case of police brutality against Bucky, a former schoolmate who had to drop out in order to work to support his family. When the police accuse Bucky of attacking them (all he did was bump into them accidentally when he wasn't looking), no one except Sam and Maxie are willing to speak up at Bucky's trial - and it's the Black Panthers, not Roland Childs, who supports the kids' decision.
While spending time with Maxie, whose brother is active in the Panther's leadership, Sam learns more and more about the Black Panthers - and begins to think he'd much rather be like them than like his father, especially after the assassination of Dr. King.
I had just been reading a few weeks ago on Reading in Color that there's a desperate need for more historical fiction set outside of the civil rights or slavery eras, and if a book was going to be set during the civil rights movement, we should at least have more points of view than just the non-violent model. And then The Rock and the River fell into my lap. (Coincidentally, she just posted about The Rock and the River on Sunday as one of the books she's looking forward to reading soon)
I realized as I read this book that I really knew very little about the Black Panther movement - I knew they were a militant organization, and that they used violence. Turns out that violence was not at all a goal of the Party as a whole, and in fact the Black Panthers had a much wider social platform than I think popular culture gives them credit for. Their ten point platform was summed up by "We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace."
There was also a throw-away line in this book that I think could lead to a whole new book. When Sam and Maxie's big brother, Raheem, are about to go out after learning some big news, Maxie wants to go with them. The following exchange happens:
Raheem pointed to the desk. "Someone has to stay and make the calls."
Maxie shot him a look. "And I guess that's the girl's job?"
"You got it, little sister," Raheem said, chucking her under the chin. (page 239)
I've read before how in a lot of the political movements in the 50s and 60s, prior to the women's movement gaining a foothold, the men in charge held the women, who felt just as strongly about the movement, back. In groups that protested against Vietnam, women were expected to do the secretarial work and be sexually available (too often "free love" meant the men could sleep with whoever they wanted and the women were supposed to accept it from whoever offered). I haven't read anything specifically about black women in the civil rights movement and how they were treated, but I do know that when the women's movement did come to prominence, some black women hesitated because they felt it would be abandoning the struggle black men were continuing to fight. I would love to know more about the sexual politics of the Black Panther party - anyone know if any books exist yet?