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Do you know one of the good things about going to the ER? It gives you a chance to read an wonderful middle school book. It’s good to read while you wait you know? The book in this case is Betty Before X. Ilyasah Shabazz with some help from Renee Watson.
Betty is a young negro girl who for the first few years of her life was raised by her auntie. She then moved in with her momma, new siblings and momma’s husband. She moved out of the south to Detroit in 1945. Betty isn’t sure of her momma’s love, or her momma’s want of her, and thus the story unfolds, spilling out into school, church and community.
This is a story that has real pain and sorrow in it, but it isn’t kept at the forefront of Betty’s life. The forefront of Betty’s life is the Lord and seeing the blessings he has provided. This book had so many blessings along with hidden questions and ideas in the heart of this girl child. Hardships she needed to face up to, but life that she needed to live.
Most of this book is just about Betty, as a youngster, growing up. What helped to formulate her mindset and shaped her day to day life. A book that draws middle school students into the life of a black child in Detroit in the mid-1940’s.
The largest part of the book is simply black and white. Numbered chapters that varied in length, it is divided into six sections, the first five containing a quote and a set of years. Just like you see below.
At the close of the story, we find the image to the right, after the image we find a section talking about characters and places in Betty’s life, as well as an timeline overview of her life. Betty grew up to become the wife of Malcolm X. In the story we are introduced to ideas that are more fully explained her without the ease in telling that you’d find in a story.
This quote from the book just sits with me… making me wonder… where do uncried tears go?
I really appreciated that this was a book filled with looking for the positive even amongst the hard things of life. Not diminishing the hard things, but not making them a point of hate or anger, just a longing for something more and better and seeing the good in what you have. This makes it an easier read of black history that I would want my middle schooler to read. The close of the book doesn’t skirt the truth, it gives the facts so that we know the behind the scenes of the story. Sharing them so we know the pain of that time, a knowing of the history. If you pick this book up, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and learn much!
Betty Before X Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson Farrarr Straus Giroux Trade paperback, 256 pages, Middle school, Upper Elementary, Fiction, Black History Reviewed for: Raincoast books. Where to find: Amazon Link.