The Awakening of Malcolm X

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
The Awakening of Malcolm X Book Poster Image
Intimate fictional memoir brings Malcolm X to life.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A fictional memoir of Malcolm X, this describes the intellectual formation of this significant historical figure. More universally, it shows the human cost of systemic racism in the criminal justice system, through the eyes of a young African American man serving time in prison.  

Positive Messages

Claim your destiny. Education brings liberation. It gets better -- if you are determined to make it so.

Positive Role Models

The main character begins his journey at a bottom, as a prison inmate, and transforms his mindset through self-directed study. His father, who died for the cause of racial justice, serves as a guiding star. His mother, raising eight children alone, offers a model of faith, resourcefulness, and determination.

Violence

There are several scenes of police beating inmates, an execution, and a death at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.

Sex

Malcolm fantasizes about kissing and caressing a past girlfriend. There is an implication that he was casually sexually active before being imprisoned.

Language

"S--t," "ass," the "N" word. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main character and others smoke tobacco cigarettes, use cocaine, and drink alcohol, as well as use nutmeg as a psychoactive substance while in prison.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Awakening of Malcolm X is a fictional memoir by (Malcolm X's daughter,  Ilyasah Shabazz (Betty Before X) collaborated with Tiffany D. Jackson (Monday’s Not Coming, winner of the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe New Talent Award) to recount Malcolm Little's formative years in prison, beginning when he was 20 years old. During his time there, Malcolm discovers harsh realities about systemic racism. He launches a self-education campaign -- reading, writing, and thinking -- that sets him up intellectually for his future life as a leader in the civil rights movement. There are several scenes of police beating inmates, an execution, and a death at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Strong language includes "s--t," "ass," and the "N" word. Malcolm and others smoke tobacco cigarettes, use cocaine, and drink alcohol, as well use nutmeg as a psychoactive substance while in prison. Malcolm fantasizes about kissing and caressing a past girlfriend. There's an implication that he was casually sexually active before being imprisoned.

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What's the story?

When THE AWAKENING OF MALCOLM X begins, 20-year-old Malcolm Little is on trial. He was part of a group of young men and women who committed robberies as a lark. He expects a White woman who participated in the crimes with him to testify in his defense, but she takes the stand for the prosecution. He's sentenced to 8 to 10 years in prison. There, he learns harsh truths about systemic racism by hearing the other prisoners' stories and observing how they are treated. He also begins a self-education campaign, reading and writing voraciously to remake himself intellectually and spiritually through conversion to Islam.

Is it any good?

Superb writing makes the iconic historical figure relatable in this fictional memoir. While narrating the gritty reality of his life in prison, young Malcolm reveals his childhood and life before prison through flashbacks and dreams. Each chapter opens with a quotation from Malcolm X's adult writings, a subtle reassurance to readers that this young man survived these horrifying experiences and eventually thrived and made a difference. This book offers a clear-eyed picture of the human cost of an unfair criminal justice system. At the same time, it inspires by showing a young person conquer loneliness and his own vices as well as social and economic forces that might have destroyed him. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how learning, reading, and writing contribute to the Malcolm's personal development in The Awakening of Malcolm X.

  • In The Awakening of Malcolm X, the main character's mistake leads to grave consequences. How does he recover?

  • The authors use a real Malcolm X quote at the beginning of each chapter. How does that affect how you read the story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love biographies and stories with Muslim American characters

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