The Rock and the River

Written by Kekla Magoon
Review by Patricia O’Sullivan

There is an old story about a man who wanted immortality. The gods were willing to grant his request and gave him a choice: he could be the rock planted firmly in the riverbed, or he could be the river that tumbled about without ceasing. Sam Childs and his brother, Stick, grew up with this story, understanding their father, a Civil Rights activist, to be the rock, and anyone who let himself be swept away in anger at the injustices suffered by African Americans as the river. But Stick has had it with protest marches that seem to accomplish nothing. Dr. King has just been murdered, and cops in their Chicago neighborhood are harassing people daily. So Stick joins the Black Panthers. Sam also wants to work for change, but should he join his father or the Panthers? Caught between the rock and the river, Sam discovers that neither choice is without sacrifice.

This is an excellent story. Magoon writes with wonderful imagery, but also the urgent pacing of a youth caught up in confusing and dangerous events. More importantly, Magoon’s treatment of the Black Panthers, who are either dismissed or just a footnote in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, is complex. She does not simply contrast the Panthers against Dr. King’s nonviolent marches, but shows how they both worked to change African American attitudes about themselves as well as the culture of white oppression in America.