IMG_20160601_111839I spent 11 days with this book. Half of those days, I’ve dealt with some kind of ebola zika bird flu strep throat virus. So it’s just been me, my bed, Kleenex, and these nearly 600 pages on the life of Malcolm X (with a few Golden State Warrior wins and the 4th season of Homeland thrown in there, too).

Noted African American history professor and scholar, Manning Marable claimed these pages as his life’s work. After teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X and noticing inconsistencies within the book, he decided to piece together Malcolm’s life from diary entries, interviews, FBI and police surveillance, meeting notes, letters, and a host of other primary sources. More than a decade of research, and this is the result. Released to a lot of controversy, due to salacious facts about Malcolm’s sexuality in his early years, his erratic and drama filled marriage to Dr. Betty Shabazz, and discrediting much of “The Autobiography…” as fictive in order to inspire the downtrodden and further Alex Haley’s republican ideals; it was also released to a lot of praise thanks to the meticulous and engaging examination of his life. There was almost too much personal information. Marable died from pneumonia three days before the book was released, leaving it impossible for him to defend this work. But even still, this book is a master biography, having won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2012, and numerous other accolades.

This book left me with a mountain of feelings to unpack about who Malcolm could’ve been, what he would’ve been for Black people everywhere, had he not been gunned down. A Life of Reinvention is one of the best titles one can give the man, as he dealt with numerous transformations and was on his way to becoming a Pan-African leader, uniting Black people across nations. The bridges he built within Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and the Middle East on behalf of the African American struggle during the last few months of his life were amazing. He was also preparing to bring the plight of Black Americans before the United Nations, framing our struggle as human rights violations on an international stage on par with South African apartheid.

There is so much to talk about within this book: Marcus Garvey’s early influence which opened the door for the NOI to flourish in the North, the history of the NOI along with the brazen violent tactics used to keep order within the mosques and protect their leader, Malcolm’s very questionable marriage, Malcolm’s relationship with other civil rights leaders and organizations, and the broken loyalties that led to his death.

I wish I’d read this with a class led by a Malcolmite scholar because unpacking it by myself is a daunting task. I especially want to research more about Malcolm’s views on women which seemed very problematic, and his connection to Maya Angelou, which was both exciting and disappointing. Despite that, this book is brilliant, heartbreaking, and life changing. I’m thankful that I was finally able to dedicate time to learning more about my favorite Black activist. This is, indeed, the most thorough and engaging biography I have ever read.

5 stars


conceptionIt took a while to review this novel because the ending left me feeling so many different things, and I needed to sit and let them digest before I settled on a conclusion and shared it with the world.

Conception is the story of Shivana Montgomery, a poor teenager grappling with fitting in on the south side of Chicago with a struggling mother who takes her frustrations out on her whenever her mood shifts. Shivana makes money by babysitting for a woman who lives in her building who works nights while her husband sits around doing a combination of selling drugs and nothing at all. Soon his attention turns to Shivana, who succumbs to his manipulating ways. She is soon infatuated with him, and eventually becomes pregnant. Her impending motherhood sets off a series of explosive events in her building and within her family, with much of it centered on her decision to keep or terminate her baby.

Conception has the makings of a somewhat typical urban tale, but for one amazing twist: the chapters alternate between Shivana’s real time issues and her unborn baby explaining a pattern of failed deliveries (births) throughout the course of history while desperately trying to use a mystical pull inside the womb to will Shivana to carry it to term. I initially thought this part would be heavily laden with pro-life rhetoric, but it ended up being one of the most brilliant ways to tell a story that I have ever experienced.

Another bright spot of the novel was Shivana’s Aunt Jewel, the kind of aunt that children with dark and toubled mothers gravitate to for warmth, love and rare sunshine. Aunt Jewel’s presence throughout the book represents freedom: freedom from hurtful men, stressful children, back breaking jobs, and generational curses. She was all shiny eyes, wisdom, and easy laughter with control over her destiny, a symbol of life outside of whatever Shivana’s future held.

The writing in this novel was wonderful, but I was thrown for a loop once Shivana began making major decisions regarding her and her unborn child’s well-being toward the end. She falls in love with Rasul, a young man in her building, thrown away by his own family and looking for footing where ever he is accepted. Their traumatic backgrounds make for an obvious and sensible coupling, but their plans to be together are made with little forethought and I became very annoyed and many times confused by their choices. Such is life when teenagers make big, life altering decisions, but I didn’t enjoy this part of the book, which made it difficult to hold on to my five star rating.

upstateJust like the ending to Kalisha Buckhanon’s first novel, Upstate (one of my favorite reads in 2014), Conception‘s last few chapters were jarring and will likely stick with me throughout the coming months. It is one of those endings that I prayed wouldn’t happen while knowing it had to happen regardless. Such is life for people who grow up too fast with little to no support, guidance, or protection.

I’d recommend this novel to people who enjoy beautiful writing in urban settings. Those who are interested in reading about troubled families and/or troubled teens should also pick this one up. There are many lessons in this story that would benefit older teens and parents of teens.

I love Buckhanon’s writing and I’m looking forward to reading her third novel, Solemn, due out in May 2016.



4 out of 5 stars

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Black History Month is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the celebration of Black culture stops on March 1st. This short list of books focuses on parts of Black American life that rarely hit the mainstream. Included are titles for kids and teens, titles for families to enjoy together, and titles for adults interested in atypical examinations of our culture and history. Add these books to your library for the other ten months of the year.


This Is A Rope: A Story of the Great Migrationrope by Jaqueline Woodson: Jacqueline Woodson, author of the National Book Award winning, Newbery medal honored Brown Girl Dreaming, has a few other amazing books up her sleeve. This Is a Rope uses a jump rope to share the story of the Great Migration with readers, ages 5-8:

“The story of one family’s journey north during the Great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. 

The rope is used to frame a thoughtful and moving story as readers follow the little girl’s journey. During the time of the Great Migration, millions of African American families relocated from the South, seeking better opportunities. With grace and poignancy, Woodson’s lilting storytelling and Ransome’s masterful oil paintings of country and city life tell a rich story of a family adapting to change as they hold on to the past and embrace the future.” (source)

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The Book of NegroesWhen I heard Lawrence Hill’s novel, The Book of Negroes, was being adapted for a three part miniseries, I immediately skedaddled over to Goodreads to push it up on my reading list. The book had been there for some years, but I wasn’t in a rush to open it because of its subject matter: slavery.

The Book of Negroes (published in the US as Someone Knows My Name) is the story of Aminata Diallo, a fictional African girl, brought to America in the 1700s. The novel starts when Aminata is a young child in her village of Bayo, being raised by her father, a Muslim jeweller who can read (rare for the circumstances), and her mother, a baby catcher or midwife. Her parents are from different ethnic groups, resulting in Aminata being multilingual and quick at learning new languages, a quality that will be to her benefit in the Americas.

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BOOK REVIEW: “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

February 4, 2015

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” And so begins, Everything I Never Told You, a novel about how 16 year old Lydia Lee ended up dead at the bottom of a […]

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My Favorite Reads of 2014

January 4, 2015

I’m baaack. I’ve missed my space over here and I’m ready to get back to blogging about Black books and the people who write them. First off, I figured I’d give you my favorite reads of 2014.

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Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison!

February 18, 2014

Toni Morrison is my absolute favorite writer of all time, with her novel Sula being my favorite novel by her. I’m also in love with Song of Solomon, and Paradise. I just finished her novel, Jazz, last week, and I plan on picking up Tar Baby sometime this summer. 2015 will be the year of […]

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10 Memoirs and Essay Collections for Black History Month

February 13, 2014

I’m a novel kinda gal, but I have slowly come to realize that non-fiction can be just as fascinating as fiction, especially if written in a narrative, conversational tone. This kind of engaged writing usually goes hand in hand with memoirs and essay collections. I recently mapped out my annual reading list and noticed that […]

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21 Novels That I Absolutely Positively Swear I’m Going To Read in 2014, Part III

January 16, 2014

The last installment of my Novel Must Reads is finally here. I think these last seven novels may be my most most anticipated reads on the list. Can’t wait to get my hands on them. Click HERE for Part I Click HERE for Part II     15. Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith (2014) – […]

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21 Novels that I Absolutely Positively Swear I’m Going to Read in 2014, Part II

January 15, 2014

More goodness in the form of my 2014 Must Read List. Click HERE for Part I.   8. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (2013) – James McBride’s novel about a young boy slave who travels the land disguised as a girl, while following the abolitionist John Brown, recently won the National Book Award. […]

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