Audiobook Review: How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Note: This review is part of the 2016 Summer Reading Diversity Spotlight.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Narrated By: Cherise Boothe, Shari Peele, Kevin R. Free, Avery R. Glymph, Patricia Lucretia Floyd
Release Date: Hardcover October 21, 2014 / Audiobook November 19, 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)  / Recorded Books
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, African American
ISBN: 978-0805098693
Running Time: 7 hours and 10 minutes
Source: Free via Summer 2016 Sync Program
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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.

This book is absolutely phenomenal. Nothing that I say will do this book justice because my thoughts are all over the place and I am in just complete awe of Kekla Magoon’s storytelling. A story that is fiction but unfortunately plays to real life all too well on every level. This should be required reading everywhere.

In How It Went Down, readers follow various POVs in the neighborhood where Tariq, a young black teenager grew up and was killed on the street in broad daylight by a white man who stopped his car, got out of the car to shoot him, and then pulled off. Through many different POVs, from his friends and his sister to the Reverend, and others in the neighborhood, everyone has their own account of that day and their own agenda moving forward – whether it’s grieving, distancing oneself from certain people, or being the face of a cause. I loved how complex and three dimensional the characters were, their relationships were, and the conflicts were. Everything came to life so organically.

There are many subplots that are naturally woven into the story and so real that some readers might even be able to find similar threads in their own lives, whether they grew up in an urban area or grew up in the black community. The black culture, the dynamics in this environment, seeing that in books never ceases to make me smile. Good or bad, it’s here. It matters. And people get to read that.  It’s wonderful.

This is a much needed look at what happens to the community when one of their own is gunned down by an outsider and what happens afterwards when that outsider is white. It’s an all too timely portrayal of white privilege and gun violence and with that, the story is just as fascinating seeing how easily a person’s merit can be painted darker or lighter based on what we see, what we think we see, what we know, and what we think we know.

I really appreciated that within the POVs, both sexes were represented and in following the girls, nothing is brushed over. Not catcalling. Not finding yourself the girlfriend of a gang member and wanting to break away. Nothing is left unexplored. This book has so many layers and there’s so much to unpack here, I feel I’ve barely touched the surface.

If you’re hoping to have a clear outline of how the day Tariq died unfolded, you’re not going to get it here. Because in this black and white case, there’s grey everywhere and justice nowhere in sight. This book will hold your attention until the very end. This book is absolutely maddening and so, so necessary for people to see, to open their eyes and really see what we’re dealing with in today’s reality and just how damaging this broken system is.

I listened to the audiobook which I highly recommend. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this had I simply read it but the story really came to life with the different narrators and was even more gut wrenching as I listened on. I also think since there were so many POVs to keep up with, hearing the different voices helped me distinguish between them much easier.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon is available today.