Title: Malcolm and Me
Author: Robin Farmer
Publication Date: November 17, 2020
Genre and age range: historical fiction, middle grade
Many thanks to Paige Herbert (publicist) for reaching out and providing a digital copy for an honest and unbiased review.
Something my history teacher used to say a lot was, “History may not exactly repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Reading Malcolm and Me, I could see so much of what he meant, though it confused me at the time. Robin Farmer finds the connections between her own past during the Black Power Movement and the world we live in today. As someone with a little brother and cousin around Roberta’s age, I found myself questioning what it might mean for them to read this with me (Aiden is starting it as we speak!).
The genius of Robin Farmer’s novel is that although I’d class it as middle grade/early YA, it creates a familiar enough environment that feels good to learn in, yet challenges young people to consider things that they may be exposed to for the first time. As a character, Roberta is empowering and fun and everything I wished I was – at only 13 years old! We watch Roberta get hit by some of the worst life has to offer a Black girl in Catholic school in the early 70’s in America, and she uses her own genius to pull herself through it all. At such a developmental age it was inspiring to watch her make sense of the world around her, ugly bits and all, using history as inspiration to do what she knows best.
On top of Roberta being the most powerful 13 year old I’ve ever (kinda) met, the novel itself generates and fosters such a deep interest in history and literature. In the middle of her own personal struggles, Roberta reads Malcolm X’s autobiography and builds a relationship with him as a way to cope, which in itself leads her down her own revolutionary path. On the other side of things, she questions the relationship she’s had with God as the traditions of her Catholic school prove to have problematic and tangled roots. She sets the stage for some difficult questions to ask – and very few adults willing to answer them with honesty – and personally, it provided a much-needed perspective, especially as age plays a role.
At its core, Malcolm and Me highlights how Roberta is learning to grow up, which often comes with emotional and spiritual growing pains. All of the new experiences she’s gaining comes with new ways of understanding the world around her, and herself, which collide in her heart and stretch it out to the point of breaking. Much like anyone else, she learns how easy it is to want to hate the people that hurt her, to make them want to see it and soak it in. For a middle-school aged audience and their initial introductions to the complexity of the world, this would be a great novel to read for class, or even with the adults/older siblings in their lives. Again, the genius of this novel is that it pulls out very key experiences for many adolescents’ development while also touching on a highly nuanced perspective, introducing a younger audience to a world that isn’t black and white, which means the people aren’t either.
If there are young people in your life who enjoy reading and rebelling, do you think they’d like reading about Roberta and Malcolm?
On November 17th, you can find it at the following links:
Until then, add it on Goodreads!