Betty Before X

Ilyasah Shabazz (X: A Novel) gives a fictionalized account of her mother's upbringing and move toward civil rights activism in Betty Before X, a collaborative novel with Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together).

Since Betty's mother, Ollie Mae, "didn't know how to raise a baby on her own," Betty was raised by her aunt until the age of six. When her aunt dies, Betty is sent back to Ollie Mae, who Betty believes loves her "but in a different kind of way"--even after five years, her "mother's house doesn't feel like home." Betty worries she'll be whipped for small mistakes and imagines running away from the mother who calls her "bad to the core." After a particularly bad beating, Betty runs to Mrs. Malloy, a church member who, Betty has seen, "knows how to love." Mrs. Malloy, who helped organize the Housewives' League and its boycott of businesses refusing to hire blacks, takes Betty in and inspires her to volunteer for the League.

Betty Before X poignantly depicts a young girl acutely aware of racism. In newspaper photographs of race riots, Betty thinks it's "hard to tell who the policemen were actually helping." At the sight of a hanging, Betty and her aunt drop their groceries and leave "the fruit and the bodies behind," making Betty wonder "which would rot faster." Yet Betty's interactions (learning to "count blessings" from Mrs. Malloy; dancing and prank calling with friends) illustrate the power of loved ones to bolster each other during hardship.

Based on recollections and printed interviews, with back matter for additional context, this moving novel illuminates and expands upon the defining events that helped shape a bold, passionate and dedicated civil rights figure. Readers will admire Betty's resolve and share in her joy as she finds the places she belongs. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Powered by: Xtenit