How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon is a careful, thought-provoking portrait of the aftermath of a shooting, making it a strong choice for a high school read-aloud and discussion starter. Jack Franklin, white, thinks he’s doing a good deed when he shoots and kills sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson (black) as he leaves a convenience store. But what really happened? We find out in How It Went Down.
How It Went Down (description from Goodreads)
“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.”
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I read How It Went Down about a year and a half ago, but I keep thinking about it because shootings keep happening. I’ll tell you honestly that I think about little Tamir Rice (link) every day because he’s my students’ age. And when I think about Tamir and Michael and Trayvon, I think about how senseless these deaths are. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon captures the heartache, the questions, the blame, the grief, the apathy, and so many more feelings of an entire community in the aftermath of a shooting.
This story is told from multiple perspectives, and Magoon is masterful in shaping her characters. She really created empathy for characters experiencing a range of emotions and opportunities in the wake of this tragedy – from a mother dealing with loss (and yet still having other children left comfort and care for) to a young man on the cusp of being pulled into gang life. One of the perspectives that always got me was Tina, Tariq’s little sister who has autism:
I am a big girl
I can stay at home alone.
“No,” Mommy says. “I want you close to me.”
“Too many people now, when we go outside.
“I know,” Mommy says, “But’s just for a little while.”
“Let’s give away all the other people, I say, “and get Tariq back.”
It’s a good idea, but it makes Mommy cry.
As the narrative unfolds, the lines between “good” and “bad” and even the conviction that we need words like these become shaky and unclear. Who cares if a child was “good” or “bad” or what subjects he liked in school, if he got killed coming out of a convenience store? Do we really want to live in a society where children get killed?
In the Classroom
How It Went Down is a gritty page-turner that could set the scene for some excellent discussions. You can easily (too easily, unfortunately) weave in the fictional perspectives with non-fiction accounts of shootings. This subject is difficult, sure, but we need to make sure that our students have an opportunity to learn and grow and empathize.
I will tell you up front that you’ll need to preread this book before putting in your classroom library or reading it aloud. It’s grungy and graphic, and has profanity in it. All the same, this is a compelling tale that deserves a spot on your bookshelf.