Fire in the Streets

August 2012. 325p. 978-1-44242-223-8.
Gr 6-9–In this compelling, stand-alone companion to The Rock and The River (S & S, 2010), 14-year-old Maxie Brown is caught up in the 1968 turmoil of the civil rights and Vietnam War protests in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. She desperately wants to prove herself worthy of becoming a Black Panther, like her older brother, Raheem. Her determination to belong gradually alienates her from her cautious childhood friends and motivates her to find the traitor who is alerting police about Black Panther operations. When she discovers who’s behind the leaks, her decision changes her world forever. Maxie lives in the projects with Raheem and her single mother. The Black Panther Party helps her feel secure and empowered in a world in which poverty, violence, and injustice are rampant, and she wants the ultimate emblems of Black Panther membership: a jacket and a gun. This provocative portrayal of a teenager’s quest for identity, belonging, and recognition transcends time and place. Readers will readily become engaged by Maxie’s zeal, her efforts to understand the people around her, her desire for acceptance, and her conflicting emotions. A strong cast of characters, vivid re-creation of documented events, and insights into the Black Panther message and actions add authenticity to Maxie’s powerful coming-of-age narrative.-Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC
This companion novel to The Rock and the River is a sequel, but the action here is narrated by fourteen-year-old Maxie. Maxie lives for the Black Panthers. She’s willing to pay her dues performing mundane chores in the office, but she pines for the day she can accept responsibilities typically reserved for older members. In 1968, Chicago hosted the Democratic National Convention with its attendant riots, and the Panthers (with Maxie and her friends in tow) are right in the thick of things. As the events of the summer segue into the fall, Maxie seeks to renew her romance with Sam (the narrator of the first book), but their relationship is complicated by other factors. He’s still grieving for his slain older brother, while she’s dealing with problems at home. Her mother’s lost her job and has taken in yet another boyfriend; her older brother, Raheem, can barely make ends meet. When the Panthers learn that there is a traitor in their midst, Maxie is sure that finding the mole is her ticket to the party’s inner circle; the acquisition of her brother’s gun in the final chapter leaves the probability of violence thick in the air. Maxie’s voice is the big draw here, providing readers with a ground-level view of an important historical moment but also of the nascent sociopolitical zeal of adolescence. jonathan hunt

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