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Topic: Review: The Rock And The River

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Subject: Review: The Rock And The River
Date Posted: 3/9/2009 3:14 AM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2008
Posts: 573
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I won this in a contest. Knew nothing about the book or the author. I can't believe how lucky I was to have this fall in my lap.

 

The Rock And The River
Kekla Magoon
YA
304 pages
Aladdin

The year is 1968, a time when the national landscape is rife with demands for social and political change. It is a tumultuous time not only on a national scale but within the once solid and comfortable home of Roland Childs, civil rights lawyer and confidant of Dr. King. For Sam and Stick (Steven), the sons of the prominent figure, that year marks pivotal moments in their own lives, a time of irrevocable change. This year, Stick, the oldest decides he can no longer follow his father’s nonviolence path to justice, and he joins ranks with the young, radical Black Panther movement. Sam, the obedient son, is torn between his loyalties to his brother and father.

When they were children, Stick would reread Sam’s favorite story about the rock and the river. As a boy, Sam was certain who was the rock in their relationship, but when Stick joins the Panthers, Sam is no longer sure about anything. The more Stick closes him off, the more Sam pushes back. Sam is driven to prove he is his brother’s peer, that he, too, can affect change. But Sam struggles to find his way. In fact, his growth comes at significant costs.

This work is the kind of read you take in a single fell swoop. The narrative propels you forward with such a force it feels unnatural to go against the intensity and let up. The anxiety Sam experiences is palpable. His thoughts and actions are urgent and conflicted. The narrative is fierce like a current. At times it feels as if you’re being pulled under with Sam, and you cannot let the air out until he can.

The Rock and the River is and exceptional debut by a writer who demonstrates a skill that belies the markers of a first novel. This is not gratuitous praise. Her style does not waver; it is brilliantly clear. To write well requires skill and talent. It requires a keen awareness of what taps the pulse of the reader. I have read that teen fiction is appealing because it get to the point, it is plot-driven. I believe the best of literature uses plot to support the examination of character. In literature, the appeal is the exploration of personal transformation and a social critique. It offers three dimensional characters who are changed or fail to change. An author succeeds when she can balance plot and character development with acute sensitivity to her audience’s sensibilities. Kekla Magoon accomplishes that. She provides the context for the reader to wrestle with his own concerns and the space to draw his own conclusions.

You know a work is a fine read when you feel enriched by the experience. You need downtime to let the novel settle into your consciousness. To pick up another book immediately strikes you as irreverent. I encourage you to read The Rock and The River. Afterwards, let me know if you don’t feel the urge to meditate.