X: A Novel

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
X: A Novel Book Poster Image
Thrilling and tragic novel about Malcolm X's troubled youth.

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Kids say

age 13+
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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Though the book doesn't really get into Malcolm's career as a civil rights icon, it does provide a lot of context and history, with references to important figures such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, and Joe Louis, all of whom helped shape Malcolm's worldview as a young man. 

Positive Messages

You can overcome past traumas, reinvent yourself, and construct a new identity. Don't believe the low expectations others have of you. Getting involved in criminal activity can land you in prison.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Malcolm went on to become a fantastic role model and one of the great heroes of the civil rights era, but this novel spans his early years, when he was a dope-smoking hustler prowling the streets of Harlem and Boston looking for trouble.

Violence

Some gruesome depictions of racial violence and lynchings, as well as a prison suicide and several fistfights. 

Language

The "N" word is used repeatedly throughout.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Malcolm smokes and sells "reefer" and gets drunk and high as often as he can.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 2016 NAACP Image Award-winner and Coretta Scott King Author Honor book X: A Novel is a harrowing retelling of Malcolm X's early life as a troubled and hedonistic hustler, years before his religious conversion and career as a civil rights activist and Nation of Islam minister. The story is colored by the blatant racism experienced by African-Americans in the 1940s and beyond, and Malcolm is tormented by the notion that he is "just another n----r," destined for an early death or imprisonment at the hands of an unjust society. 

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Teen, 13 years old Written byBrando8 February 29, 2016

My opinion

I think that this book will educate many children who are trying to learn about racial segregation down in the south and how a man named Malcom became a drug de... Continue reading

What's the story?

Cowritten by one of Malcolm X's daughters, Ilyasah Shabazz, X: A NOVEL tells the story of the civil rights hero's dark and fascinating adolescence, from his fractured family life in Lansing, Michigan, to his exploits as a zoot suit-wearing gambler and drug dealer in Boston and Harlem, to his conviction and confinement for burglary, ending before his conversion to Islam and release from prison. The novel doesn't provide much information about Malcolm's career as a minister or social justice advocate -- aside from a brief epilogue -- but it does offer a nuanced and intimate portrayal of a bright young man who lost his father to racial violence at an early age, lost his mother to a mental institution, and lost himself in the world of drugs and hustling.

Is it any good?

Coauthors Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon have crafted a deep and riveting story that provides a window into the tumultuous upbringing of one of the 20th century's towering figures.The writing is stellar throughout, filled with heartbreaking commentary on the frustration and despair faced by young African-American men, a topic still quite relevant today, decades after Malcolm's assassination. The book touches on very mature themes, including violence against interracial couples, getting high and dealing drugs, and the prevalence of lynching and Ku Klux Klan terrorism, making it best for teens interested in exploring the complexities of racism and fractured families.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how childhood trauma and the loss of a stable family at an early age affected Malcolm's development. Why did he resent his father? How did his parents' political activities contribute to the way they were targeted by racists?

  • Do you prefer reading about a historical figure's life in a novel such as this one or in a biography? How are the two forms different?

  • What effect did prison have on Malcolm? How did embracing the teachings of the Nation of Islam affect his worldview and alter the course of his life?

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