How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

how-it-went-down“When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.”

Oh boy, did this one end up disappointing me.  With all of the incidents happening in the country involving the shooting of young black men, I wanted to pick up this book and see if a fictional account of such an event might help me make some sense of everything I’m seeing in the news.  But all this book did was make me angry–not at the subject matter, but at the handling of it.

The synopsis leads you to believe that the majority of the book will show the shooting from the points of view of different people who may or may not have been involved or on the scene.  And the book does start out like that.  That’s where it’s the most interesting–when the author is making you question whether or not Tariq had a gun or if the shooter mistook a Snickers bar for a weapon.  The very absurdity of a candy bar being mistaken for a gun underscores how stupid and random street violence can be.

But then the book takes a turn that I didn’t like, and it took me a while to figure out what was bothering me so much.  There were the surface problems that I saw, such as the plotlines that had nothing to do with the shooting.  For example, there’s a reverend who helps organize the protests and marches, and the author makes the strange choice to have him struggle with lecherous thoughts towards one of the young female characters.  There is literally nothing that ties this to the main storyline.

I did finally figure out what was bothering me so much about this novel, though.  After I finished the book, I sat down and thought about it for a while.  And I realized that the vast majority of the book does nothing to address the issue of an armed white man shooting an unarmed (probably) black teen.  Oh, there are the protests and marches and TV reports, of course.  But as the book goes on, the question switches from “How could something like this happen?” to “Was Tariq a gang member?”  And that is so beside the point as to be offensive to me.  Whether or not he was actually an active gang member has nothing to do with the fact that an armed man stopped a car, got out, shot a boy, fled the scene, and was eventually released from custody with no charges filed.  There are so many aspects of this that could have been explored, but the focus instead is placed on blaming the victim–just like in real life.

This is not the way we want to teach kids to think about these sorts of events.  We want to inspire them to question the cultural mindset that demonizes victims, no matter their race, gender, or social standing.

I can’t completely dislike this book, because there are some good parts where characters do try to think about what happened in a way that explores the tough issues, but there aren’t enough of them.  They definitely don’t overcome the glaring problems that come up as the book progresses.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.

(Description nicked from B&

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