X: a novel
by: Ilyasah Shabazz (illustrator: Kekla Magoon)
Published: Candlewick (January, 2015)
ISBN: 978-0763669676

Malcolm’s parents love him and they believe that despite the racism plaguing the country that he can be whatever he wants to be, but life gets in the way of that dream when his father is murdered by racists and his mother is broken by the tragedy in such a way as to be institutionalized. Seperated from his family he strives to do his best in school, and he does, outperforming the white boys who call him names in class. Despite his academic abilities and his desire to be a lawyer he’s told he should think lower, much lower. People like him don’t get to be lawyers. Disheartened he gives up on the straight path and falls in love with the city and plays the hustler’s game until it ultimately leads him to jail, then to God and then to greatness.

I’ve read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I recommend we all do, and I was interested to see what the differences in the two might be. This is a fictionalized account of the activists’s life so it’s based on the facts of his life, but fleshed out and dramatized. I enjoyed the color that was brought to the tale and definitely felt that it was more accessible to younger audiences than the autobiography. It’s hard to imagine how someone can make such a dramatic change on their outlook and approach to life, but it is also hard to understand the choices each of us make each day. What turns a man into a god? What turns a man into a demon? Sometimes the same experiences can do one or the other to each of us and we have to explore whether we are contributing to the uplift of ourselves and others or our collective destruction.

Discussion Questions

  1. What personality traits led Malcolm to abandon higher learning and pursue a life outside the law? How did those same traits lead him towards a career in civil rights?
  2. How did Malcolm’s neighborhood nurture him? How did it fail him?
  3. The story isn’t chronological. Is this helpful or harmful to the story?
  4. Malcolm is told that he can be anything he wants to be, but he comes to believe that this isn’t possible through a series of events in his life. Many children are told the same thing. Was Malcolm wrong? Has this changed in your lifetime?
  5. Mr. Ostrowski reveals what he believe Malcolm is capable of in Chapter 3. Describe what kind of person he is.
  6. How was prison an incubator for Malcolm? Why were the words of Elijah Muhammad so effective in that environment?
  7. Malcolm lived a hustler’s life. Did he have a choice? Why was it so attractive?
If you like this then:
Obviously go pick up the Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley), but while you’re getting that go ahead and try Queen: the story of an American family by Alex Haley. It’s fictionalized, as well, if you believe scholarly accounts. It follows the life of an ancestor of Alex Haley’s whose father is the master of the plantation that she is freed from after the civil war. We follow her on a journey through eras of strife as she finds herself redefining what race, family and home really mean.
Now, if you want to be authentic you might try some Duke Ellington to listen to while you read, but I feel that militant rap is also appropriate, so choose at will.
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