Sam is the son of a prominent civil rights leader. He and his brother Stick help their father at demonstrations, but it is sometimes difficult being in the spotlight. Then Stick secretly joins the Black Panthers. Suddenly, Sam’s world is not what he thought it was. He is confused and exposed to things he knew nothing about. He has to make choices and decide what role he wants to take in the movement.
Sam is one of those characters that you see in so many young people. He doesn’t think for himself; he just absorbs what others are thinking and doing and takes that on. He lives under the shadow of his father and then Stick. He just goes with the flow and follows the next new thing or whoever influences him the most. It is not until the end of the book that you really see him thinking and acting on his own. In a way this makes him a harder character to like, but it makes him a little easier to identify with. He takes the easy path in some ways because it is easier to go with those who are strong and influential and powerful. You can see how he can get caught in the web of his father or the Panther’s influence without ever really seeing the underlying causes they are fighting for. He is just a surface dweller; he doesn’t delve deeper to see what is really happening in his community and the world around him. So many people are like Sam both today and in the past.
I think the strength of this book is not in the characters but in the movement it portrays. So often Civil Rights era books seem so one-sided; only showing the Dr. King method of protesting/demonstrating. But this book seems to show both sides of the movement. The Black Panthers are often vilified and shown as militant terrorists almost. But this book shows that they were not always like that. They were concerned about their community and wanted to help in a more immediate way than they saw the movement working. They opened health clinics and gave away free breakfasts and patrolled their neighborhoods and not all of them were all about the guns and violence. I think this book did a great job of showing what the Black Panthers were all about, but how they could revert to violence. It was a violent time, especially if you were Black. I think the book also did a good job of showing how both sides worked together towards their common goals even if their methods were often different.
An excellent book on the Civil Rights Movement and definitely worthy of the Coretta Scott King Award.