Title: The Rock and the River
Author: Kekla Magoon
ISBN: 9781416975823
Pages: 290 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, c2009.

I stuck my hand in my pocket. I had a couple dollars on me, but I wasn’t sure it would be enough.
“Put it back.” The voice startled me, and I turned. The old man behind the counter glared at me.
“What?” I said.
“I said, put it back.” He moved out from behind the counter and approached me, shaking his fist.
“Put what back?”
“Don’t give me sass, boy. You think I can’t see?” He came up and grabbed my wrist, yanking my hand out of my pocket. Two dollar bills and some coins dropped onto the floor as he pried open my fingers.
“I don’t understand,” I said. I glanced over his shoulder at the door. “I didn’t take anything.”
“Turn out your pockets, both of them.” I inverted the linings in my other pocket. The man frowned. […]
“Get out before I call the police.” I stood there and took it. (14-15)

Thirteen-year old Sam Childs is the younger son of Roland and Marjorie Childs. Roland is an important player in the civil rights movement going on in 1967, working with Martin Luther King Jr. to end segregation peacefully and nonviolently. So when Sam’s seventeen year old brother Steven “Stick” becomes involved with the gun-totting Black Panthers, Sam’s father is anything but happy. After Stick leaves home, Sam must come to grips with whose philosophies he should really believe. And when tensions in their Chicago suburb come to a boil, it’s not just Sam’s pride that gets hurt.

I had trouble getting into this book initially, but I think that’s just because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. After setting it down for a while and coming back to it, I became instantly engrossed in the story and couldn’t figure out why I was apathetic about it to begin with. Kekla Magoon weaves a masterful tale, starting the story in the middle of a demonstration that goes wrong. The powder-keg of the race riots during that time period is skillfully portrayed, and those volitile feelings are balanced against Sam’s conflicted, internalized dialogue. Both sides, the nonviolence of King and the Black Panthers are portrayed in what I feel is a balanced light, showing both the propaganda and the politics behind both groups, and how they might not have been so different after all. The title is explained in the somewhat open ending, which leads for discussion amongst its’ readers. As Martin Luther King Day and African American History Month (Feb.) approaches, this book should be on every library’s teen reading list. An author’s note at the end distinguishes between fact and fiction.