Chicago, 1968. As the son of a famous civil rights activist, 13-year-old Sam Childs' life is complicated as it is -- living in the public eye is difficult, his father's expectations are high, and there isn't much room for differing opinions. Luckily, Stick, his older brother and best friend, understands and supports him.
But then Stick changes -- he has new friends, spends more and more time out of the house, is more quick to challenge his father's beliefs and actions, is openly critical about the non-violent methods used by the civil rights movement, and, more upsetting than anything else, is clearly keeping secrets from Sam.
When Sam finds and reads some Black Panther literature hidden under Stick's bed, he realizes that he needs to understand Stick's new way of thinking for himself -- regardless of what his father thinks.
I've read quite a few books about the civil rights movement written for middle grade and teen audiences, and I'm pretty sure that The Rock and the River is the first one I've read that deals with the beginnings of the Black Panther Party -- or the Black Panther Party at all, for that matter. I'm also pretty sure that it's the first one I've read that explores the differences of opinion within the civil rights movement. I found both of those aspects of the book completely fascinating.
I did feel that to some extent, the characters took a backseat to the history -- that they served as props in a lesson, rather than the history serving as a backdrop for a story about people -- but I do feel that not all readers will share that opinion. And even though I felt that the characters were more archetype than human, that isn't to say that there was no tension in the book -- from the moment of the gun's introduction, I worried about how it would eventually be used. So, while I didn't find it an amazing read, I found it a compelling read -- and it's certainly one that I'll keep in mind when I'm helping young patrons find historical fiction.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher; Cybils nominee.
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