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?
Ok… I’ll admit that I thought John Green would be a shoe in for this year’s Printz award with Fault In Our Stars and I was momentarily bitter when he didn’t win. But that bitterness was fleeting because In Darkness by Nick Lake is an incredible read and worthy of this great honor. I hadn’t read the last two Printz winners so I was determined to read this one. I couldn’t put it down. It is raw, painful and at the same time fascinating. We meet Shorty just after the hospital he is in collapses during the earthquake that devastated Haiti several years ago. While Shorty is a fictional character, the events and several of the other characters are very real. Shorty is the only one alive in the rubble. He is surrounded by dead people. While he waits to either die or be rescued, he recounts the events in his life that brought him to this point. Shorty is a gang banger. He is in the hospital with a gunshot wound. His experiences bring him in close contact with the infamous Dread Wilme, a real drug lord and leader in the poorest section of Port-Au-Prince. Shorty has a twin sister who is lost to him, but the two had a mystical bond that made them special in their neighborhood. When Dread is killed while trying to protect Shorty, he gives Shorty a stone that legend says is home to a Vodou god. This stone will protect him. While Shorty sleeps we hear another story from a different character named Toussaint l’Ouverture. Toussaint is also a real man who lived long ago and helped free the slaves of Haiti during the revolution. Somehow the stone connects him with Shorty and Dread Wilme. This is a brilliant mix of historic fiction and modern day gang life. This will attract both teens who are interested in gang culture and history. Lake draws these two elements together with chapters listed “Then” and “Now.” Readers also get a look at Haitian Vodou and how it is still often used in Haiti today. The Zombi element is also interesting when you learn how the Vodou priests would turn people in real Vodou Zombis. I highly recommend this book and believe when sold in the right way it may appeal to reluctant readers. “Gang banger shot and then buried alive when his hospital collapses on top of him. Oh… and by the way there are real zombies.”
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
What do you think Shorty means when he says “I was in darkness, but now I am in light?”
What do you think Shorty will do with his life after this story ends?
Discuss Haiti history and Toussaint.
Talk about gang life and why Shorty would want to be part of it.
Why do you think people would allow themselves to become Vodou Zombi?
Discuss this passage: “I am in darkness, in a small space, and my mind is a small dark place too, he thought. We are all trapped in a cave, and that cave is ourselves. The shape of its walls moves like water; this barrier disturbs what little light gets in and makes everything we see unique to us.”
Discuss Dread Wilme. What do you think “the site” would be like without men like him?
How would you react if you heard the news about Biggie and your father?
Talk about the relationship between Biggie and Stephanie. What do you think attracted her to him?