In Case You Missed It: “How It Went Down” by Kekla Magoon

How It Went Down

October 21, 2014 from Henry Holt & Co

A 2015 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book

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.

While the book was written before the events at Ferguson had already taken place, when it was published last fall, How it Went Down  (HIWD) was incredibly timely. However, the book didn’t get a lot of attention or acclaim. Set in Detroit, HIWD tells the story of Tariq Johnson’s death from the perspectives of everyone who was involved in the situation, and even several people who got involved after it happened.

A big name TV preacher, the man who shelters the shooter for a week, the girl who watched him die, Tariq’s little sister – we hear from all of these people, and more, regarding the aftermath of the shooting and its affects on these people and the larger community. Keeping track of the large variety of narrators can be difficult for some readers, but it’s an integral part of the storytelling. Everyone has a different idea of what happened, and who did what on that fateful day. This is so incredibly realistic and honest – this is how real life is. This is why these unfortunate situations don’t get resolved the way most people would like.

How it Went Down is a masterful portrayal of the complexities involved in the shooting of a teen, and how the ramifications of the event have lasting effects on everyone involved. The ambiguous ending, while it may be unsatisfying to some readers, is very realistic and honest.

HIWD also provides a lot of opportunities for discussion with young readers. It would make a great classroom read or a book club book for high school students.

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