Monday, January 2, 2017

What we're reading: "Ripped from the headlines"

The story of How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon, bears striking similiarities to the real-life shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, in Florida in 2012. Martin was on foot, on his way home from the store, when Zimmerman spotted him from his car, decided he looked suspicious, and got into an altercation in which he ended up shooting the young man. In this book, Tariq was on his way home with a carton of milk he'd fetched for his mother, when he was accosted by one man, egged on to fight him by his friends, and shot by a passerby in a car, a white man. The book is definitely not an exact duplicate of the Martin event, and in fact could stand in for many such incidents (such as the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri). But the riveting way in which it is presented shows all the possible pitfalls of making assumptions based on race and circumstance.

Magoon writes the story in short, effective, page-turning chapters and from many viewpoints (17, to be exact, with thanks to the person on Goodreads who counted them)--those of the people who were there on the spot and thought they had the facts, and those of people peripheral to the story who nonetheless made assumptions based on what they knew about the protagonists, what they were told by others, and on which side their prejudices landed when the event happened. You get to hear firsthand from the store owner, the guy who thought he was helping out, the gang members who gathered to see a fight, and the friend of the shooter, who saw a completely different scenario when he viewed it from farther down the block. You dip into the thoughts and reactions of everyone who knew Tariq, and some who did not, like the "Reverend" politician who hopes to gain visibility through his association with the volatile event.

What we are ultimately left with is more questions, because the only person who really knows the truth is Tariq, and he's dead. But the truths that we get from each of the players showcase all the nuances we need to consider when looking at every person in every circumstance, clearing our vision and refusing to be limited to one set of lenses. This is an important book, deserving of the awards it has won, and is also a riveting, gritty, realistic read.

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