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Betty Before X
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Betty Before X is a fictionalized retelling of Betty Shabazz's middle school years in Detroit as told by her daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz (X: A Novel), and co-author Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together). Betty -- raised Methodist by foster parents -- would go on to marry Malcolm X and raise their children as a single parent after his killing. The book centers on Betty's painful relationship with her mother and how her extended family and foster parents nurtured her strength and principles. Racism and discrimination are strong themes but rarely affect Betty directly in her close-knit community. There are references to riots and the police killing of a black boy, and a very young Betty encounters a lynching with a caregiver who tries to shield her from it. Set in the 1940s, the book uses the language of the time, including "Negro" and "colored."
What's the story?
BETTY BEFORE X focuses on Betty Shabazz (born Betty Dean Sanders) during her middle school years in Detroit, a decade before she met her future husband, Malcolm X. At 11, Betty lives with her abusive mother, Ollie Mae, her stepfather, and several siblings. She loves music, candy, and her girlfriends and siblings. After a brutal whipping, she's taken in by Helen and Lorenzo Malloy. She's a leader of the Housewives' League, which urges women to boycott stores that don't hire or respect black people, and he's a self-made businessman. They try to shield Betty from the ugly realities of racism even as they teach her to stand up to injustice and take pride in herself, her heritage, and her community.
Is it any good?
In this moving portrait, Betty Shabazz's daughter shows how courage, resilience, and strength can blossom during a critical period of childhood -- and how those experiences can help shape a movement. Readers don't need to know about Malcolm X's life and legacy to appreciate Betty Before X, which is really about a girl learning to appreciate her own self-worth in a world where her mother's love seems unattainable and her skin color is viewed with disdain outside her close-knit community.
Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson vividly portray a unique time and place that helped forge Betty as a leader with a firm commitment to raising children with love, supporting women and families, and standing strong for justice and dignity. Young Betty's nervousness as she learns to speak up for her values makes her especially relatable to readers at an age when their possible future selves are beginning to come into focus.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about novelization of Betty Shabazz's life as portrayed in Betty Before X. Do you think the blending of fact and fiction helps you better appreciate her story, or would you prefer a fictional character or a more traditional biography?
Do you think the adults in Betty's life are right to try to shield her from experiencing the full scope of racism in her community? Do you get frustrated when adults withhold information, or do you appreciate not having to deal with the same concerns they do?
How does learning about the childhood of people who became leaders as adults help you understand them better?
- Authors: Ilyasah Shabazz, Renée Watson
- Genre: Biography
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: January 2, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks
Themes & Topics
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.