Mary's Reviews > The Rock and the River

The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
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's review
Feb 08, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: male-protagonist, poc-protagonist, ya, historical-fiction

This book drove me nuts because it's written as though it's a fictionalized version of actual historical events written about actual historical figures, and only at the end in an end note does the author mention that, hey, she made up everyone in the story. The main character is the son of a man who is supposedly a major figure in the civil rights movement, and the events that happen to his family receive national media attention. It seems inappropriate to me to write a completely fictional account like this. Children who read this book are going to think these are actual figures in the civil rights movement (and the Black Panther Party as well), and will not know which events are true (MLK being shot, riots in Chicago) and which are not true (Roland Childs as a major figure in the civil rights movement and a leader and speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, all of the events in the book involving his family).

I feel like if you're going to write historical fiction, you either have to write it about an actual major historical figure and do intensive research into their actual life, or else write it about someone who is a nobody, and have them interact with actual major historical figures in ways that match up with actual historic events. You should not invent someone who, if they actually existed, ought to be noted in textbooks (or at least have a Wikipedia entry) - even if you are using your characters to convey your interpretation of a historical mood and movement that has been largely overlooked. Perhaps especially if you are writing about history that tends to be glossed over, you should make sure that what you are writing is accurate - because your novel may be the only introduction to the topic that many students have.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Sam (new)

Sam Musher Interesting! I hadn't heard of this book until the ALA awards, and still haven't read it. This is a perspective I hadn't heard, but I think I agree with you (about historical fiction in principle, anyway).

message 2: by Andy (last edited Dec 25, 2010 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Andy What a strange commentary! I completely disagree with you.

Whether a story tells us about history using well-known or unknown characters does not change the fact that the book falls under the category of historical fiction. Anyone who finds themselves so intrigued that they actually do some research on their own should not be disappointed that the characters they are looking for are fictional.

There are plenty of books that are completely fictional and people are completely willing to believe in the power of those characters. Should authors not write books with characters that are too believeable?

Of course not.

This is a wonderful book, and if Kekla Magoon's decision to use the civil rights movement, MLK, Jr., and the Black Panther Party as her backdrop drives more people to read about the actual history, then she has done a wonderful thing.

Mary I agree that it would be great if this book inspired people to read more about the actual history. But I work with middle school students, and I know that unfortunately, most of my students are unlikely to research the actual history, even if they really liked this book. So many of them would think that Roland Childs and his family were actually major figures in the civil rights movement, and would never know that they did not exist and were products of Kekla Magoon's imagination. That's what I have a problem with in this book. She made up characters that would have been significant players in major historical events, and many young people who read this book will never do the background research to find out that they never existed, so they'll be misinformed because of this book.

Andy I'm a teacher, too, and I still disagree with your logic. Basically, you're saying this book is too realistic and that makes it a bad book for kids. If you're concerned about that, make a pre-emptive strike and teach your kids what about this genre first. That way, they'll know that not all of it is real. That way, they may become curious to dig deeper. It's part of our job to guide our students.

Chezon I agree with you Andy

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