Featured Review: Black Was the Ink (Michelle Coles)

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About This Book:

Through the help of a ghostly ancestor, sixteen-year-old Malcolm is sent on a journey through Reconstruction-era America to find his place in modern-day Black progress.
Forgotten heroes still leave their mark.

Malcolm Williams hasn't been okay for a while. He's angry and despondent and feels like nothing good ever happens for teens like him in D.C. All he wants is to be left alone in his room for the summer to draw or play video games--but no such luck. With growing violence in his neighborhood, his mother ships him off to his father's family farm in Mississippi, and Malcolm is anything but pleased.

A few days after his arrival, his great-aunt tells him that the State is acquiring the farm to widen a highway. It's not news Malcolm is concerned about, but someone plans to make it his concern. One minute Malcolm is drawing in the farmhouse attic, and the next he's looking through the eyes of his ancestor Cedric Johnson in 1866.

As Cedric, Malcolm meets the real-life Black statesmen who fought for change during the Reconstruction era: Hiram Revels, Robert Smalls, and other leaders who made American history. But even after witnessing their bravery, Malcolm's faith in his own future remains shaky, particularly since he knows that the gains these statesmen made were almost immediately stripped away. If those great men couldn't completely succeed, why should he try?Malcolm must decide which path to take. Can Cedric's experiences help him construct a better future? Or will he resign himself to resentments and defeat?

Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Nic Stone, and featuring illustrations by upcoming artist, Justin Johnson, Black Was the Ink is a powerful coming-of-age story and an eye-opening exploration of an era that defined modern America.

 

 

*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

For as much information as was in this book, I was able to write most of the review without looking at my notes, which means that the story was easy to follow and well put together. Malcolm is an engaging character whose life has been difficult even though his family is very supportive. I'm always glad to see characters who spend summers with family in the south, because it is interesting to see them compare the treatment of Blacks there to their own experiences. The inclusion of family history was fascinating, and adding a little romance didn't hurt. The time travel is done convincingly, with Malcolm struggling a bit to adjust to being Cedric, but doing a great job. There is a devastating twist with Cedric's life that propels Malcolm to work harder on saving the family farm. Seeing the uncle struggle with adjusting to life outside prison adds an interesting layer. The biographies and time line will be helpful to students who are really interested in history and are looking for people to investigate further. I'd love to see a nonfiction book about this time period!

This was so well done and covers a period of history about which I am sure few young readers know. There are lots of books where Black children travel back to the time of slavery, (such as Trapped Between the Lash and the Gun by Arvella Whitmore or Messner's Ranger in Time: Long Road to Freedom) and it was such a joy to read one where the time travel lead to a discovery of a time when Black people where making a lot of sociopolitical progress. This strikes me as the kind of book that the characters in Rhuday-Perkovich's It Doesn't Take a Genius summer camp would be reading! Very interesting.
Good Points
In 2015, Malcolm Williams is being raised in Washington, D.C. after the violent death of his father when he was a baby. After he is involved in a racially charged incident with the police himself, his mother sends him to spend the summer with family in Missippi. His grandmother has passed, but he is able to help his elderly great aunt and uncle with the farm, although farm work does NOT appeal to him, and the lack of WiFi doesn't make him happy, either. He is intrigued when his Uncle Corey is released from jail after serving a sixteen year sentence for marijuana possession, since his uncle is his only connection with his father. When his aunt tells the family at a reunion that they are going to lose the rest of the farm to more highway construction (they had lost much of it in the 1960s), Malcolm isn't too concerned at first, and doesn't think there is much he can do. He meets a neighbor girl, Jasmine, and goes to a fair with her, where he gets in trouble after local white hoodlums push HIM around. Luckily, Jasmine's father is a lawyer who is well versed in the treatment that Black men recieve from the police and get him released. When Malcolm finds the diary of an ancestor, Cedric Johnson, from the 1870s, he becomes more interested in Civil Rights-- especially when Cedric himself appears and sends him back in time! Malcolm finds himself walking in Cedrics shoes as a congressional aide to Pastor Hiram Revels, the first Black congressman who served during Reconstruction. Malcolm keeps traveling back in time, moving a few years into the future with each trip, and meets an amazing array of Black historical figures. As he is witnessing the mostly hidden history of the 1800s, he is dealing with racial issues in the present, especially the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston. This, along with all of the things that Cedric witnesses, spurs him to try to save the family farm by declaring it a historical site, which the journal helps him to do. The book includes brief biographies of many of the figures mentioned, and an excellent timeline.

 

 

*Find More Info & Buy This Book HERE!*

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