Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down is a very timely read. So much is happening in the news about African-Americans youth being shot and killed by white police officers and others. Tariq Johnson is shot and killed by a white man. No charges are pressed against the shooter after he claims self defense. This story is told in different points of view. All of the characters have a slightly different take on what actually happened. The main characters are all related to Tariq in some way from his grandmother and sister to his best friend and the gang leader who wants to recruit him. If you are looking for the story to be spelled out, this is not for you. What happened to Tariq is unclear but we can draw conclusions from the various narrators. Some of them are trustworthy, some are not. The reader must decide who to believe. This story is very thought provoking. Tariq’s death affects different characters and different ways. Some are devastated while others benefit from his death. Losing Tariq makes others strong and begin to question their own lives. He brings people together and tear some apart. Readers will also learn about gang culture and how hard it is to resist if you live in a community where gangs rule. I highly recommend this as a book to discuss as a teen book group.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Discuss how Reverend Sloan used Tariq’s death to his advantage. How he wished for something like this.
Discuss Will’s life with his wealthy step-father. Discuss Steve’s reaction to Tariq’s death. Discuss how Will and Steve’s relationship changes throughout the story.
Discuss when Sammy does not want to pass up an opportunity of riding with Brick.
Discuss how Tyrell is trying to put off the Kings. Why would it be wise for him to join or not to join? How do you think his ultimate decision will help or hurt him in the long run?
Why is Kimberly acting the way she does around the Reverend?
Discuss what Tina finds in Tariq’s room. How does this change things? How about what Sammy tells us about it?
Discuss when Tina says, “Backpacks are good for hiding things. Faces are not good for hiding things.” pg. 311
Discuss when Reverend Sloan says, “Maybe my whole life has been spent pissing in the ocean, trying to turn it yellow.”
Discuss Noodle and Jennica’s relationship.
Who is the most reliable narrator?
What do you really think happened? Was Tariq armed? Why do you think the shooter did it?