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Book Review: The Awakening of Malcom X

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I’m embracing this trend of young adult books that dive deep into African-American History. Scholastic generously sent me The Awakening of Malcolm X to review for Black History Month. Malcolm X was a Black Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement. For a time he was also one of the most visible leaders of the Nation of Island. Read on for my review of The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson.

Book Review The Awakening Malcom X

About The Awakening of Malcolm X

The Awakening of Malcolm X is a powerful narrative account of the activist’s adolescent years in jail, written by his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz along with 2019 Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe award-winning author, Tiffany D. Jackson.

No one can be at peace until he has his freedom.

In Charlestown Prison, Malcolm Little struggles with the weight of his past. Plagued by nightmares, Malcolm drifts through days, unsure of his future. Slowly, he befriends other prisoners and writes to his family. He reads all the books in the prison library, joins the debate team and the Nation of Islam. Malcolm grapples with race, politics, religion, and justice in the 1940s. And as his time in jail comes to an end, he begins to awaken — emerging from prison more than just Malcolm Little: Now, he is Malcolm X.

Here is an intimate look at Malcolm X’s young adult years. While this book chronologically follows X: A Novel, it can be read as a stand-alone historical novel that invites larger discussions on black power, prison reform, and civil rights.


The Awakening of Malcolm X tracks his experiences within prison mixed with flashbacks of his life with his siblings before prison.  As a young man Malcolm Little is sent to prison for a stolen watch.  In prison he becomes numb to the violence, drug use and abusive prison guards.  Trying to survive he becomes known as “Satan” in Charlestown Prison due to his volatile temper and anger at the entire situation.  He discourages his siblings from visiting him in prison, not wanting them to see just how much he has suffered.  

Malcolm’s sisters secure his transfer to a different prison and Malcolm discovers a love of reading.  During this time his siblings encourage him to embrace the Nation of Islam and the teachings of Elijah Muhammed.  After refusing to take a vaccine and becoming a successful debater, Malcom returns to Charlestown prison for another 2 years.  Upon his release he returns to his family a different man, one ready to completely embrace the Nation of Islam and one who meets his future wife Betty.

The Awakening of Malcolm X shows the injustices that Black men faced in prison and many still face today.  Getting to the core of Black men imprisoned over the most minor things, The Awakening really details just how these men are treated inhumanely simply because of the color of their skin.  One other interesting aspect is Malcom’s realization that Black people have never been free, slavery was just replaced with imprisonment and more cruelty. 

The Awakening of Malcolm X is an incredible book.  There are some important references to Black history including the Tulsa riots, the distrust of vaccinations, and the novel even hints at the turmoil involving Elijah Muhammed to come.  While it is a young adult novel please be aware that there are references to violence, suicidal thoughts, drug use and the n-word which could be triggering to readers.  


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