Reading is always an opportunity to go outside of your comfort zone and experience a dramatically different point of view, but with this series, I was able to do so twice! As my first foray into YA novels, these two books surely did not disappoint, and having the opportunity to hear the author speak as I was reading them, and ask questions about her research and writing process, was an added bonus.
The Rock and the River forces you to fully emotionally commit to the characters and family, and their experiences could not possibly be further removed from my own. The protagonist is a 13 year old African American boy living through the civil rights movement in Chicago the 1960s. He struggles through the death of MLK Jr., and watches as multiple acts of violence are perpetrated against his father and his community. While I very much enjoyed this book, the perspective of a 13 year old boy was, at times, frustratingly realistic, so I was excited to see that the second book in the series, Fire in the Streets, was told from the perspective of his girlfriend, perhaps the most interesting character in the book.
As Fire in the Streets opens, Maxie's family is struggling to pay basic bills, in sharp contrast to Sam, from the first novel, who has a very solidly middle class family. She is extremely clever and "tough," but is still reeling from the dramtic events in the first book. She is an aspiring Black Panther, and will do anything to make herself useful to her neighborhood chapter, often taking personal risks to her safety. She is a vibrant, multifaceted character, and she walks with trepidtion, while viewing her world as one filled with inequality. A specifically touching scene describes her going into a bank to get change, after being chased out of several convenience stores. You absolutely feel as though you are in her shoes, fearful of being in such an alien and potentilly hostile place, while at the same time realizing that she should have the right to be there.
Both books are captivating and eye-opening. I am definitely interested in picking up some of Magoon's other novels! I think they would be great required reading for middle school students.