This was definitely one of the most powerful books I've read in awhile. How It Went Down is the story of Tariq Johnson, a young man of 16 years old who was killed by gunfire in his community. The story is told from alternating POVs. Some critics of the book found this confusing, but I thought it really illustrated the interconnectedness of the community. You know the quote, there are three sides to every story... your side, my side, and the truth? This story reminds you of that. It is told in a way that is similar to the movie Crash, another favorite of mine. We get to hear from everyone from the neighborhood girl who first ran to Tariq, to his sister and his grandmother, to the shopkeeper. It's a devastating story both because you realize that he wasn't the guy that many thought him to be (and even if he was- he didn't deserve to die)- and because you realize that this is happening. Tariq Johnson might be a fictional character, but so many of the young people that die due to gun violence every day are real.
Notably, two of the POVs that were not offered were the police officer and the shooter. I would have loved to hear from them as well, but i don't think it took away from the story. I just wanted more, and I think given the tension that presently exists between civilians and police officers, it would have given a lot to the story to hear their side.
What I liked the most about this book was that it was a YA book. The themes are so important, but they are so accessible. It's very today, especially for teens that live in the city. One of the major themes running through this book is that of perception. Where do these perceptions come from? Tariq was more than just a "gang banger" (was he even a banger?) He was a brother, best friend, protector, friend, son, grandchild. By far and away the most powerful voice in the book was that of his "special needs" little sister, Tina. He took care of her and her comments were so raw and pointed:
I would love to see this as required reading in high schools. However, there is a lot of tough language involved, and reading a book like this would necessitate a skilled facilitator and I'm afraid that the message would be lost on those who can't look past the language (just read a couple of the ratings on Goodreads if you don't believe me). It's a shame, too, because so many great lessons could be derived from this, if only teens were trusted to be able to handle the material. What's worse? Avoiding the topics that exist in todays community for fear of offending someone because of the language? Or pretending that this isn't a part of our reality?
All in all, I highly recommend this book. I read it in a day and loved it. Even if you find all of the different point of views confusing, place your focus less in who is saying it and more into what is being said. 5 out of 5.