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Fire in the Streets

Fire in the Streets

3.6 3
by Kekla Magoon

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What means more, shared values or shared blood? Maxie’s choice changes everything in this acclaimed companion to The Rock and the River.

Bad things happen in the heat, they say.

Maxie knows all about how fire can erupt at a moment’s notice, especially now, in the sweltering Chicago summer of 1968. She is a Black


What means more, shared values or shared blood? Maxie’s choice changes everything in this acclaimed companion to The Rock and the River.

Bad things happen in the heat, they say.

Maxie knows all about how fire can erupt at a moment’s notice, especially now, in the sweltering Chicago summer of 1968. She is a Black Panther—or at least she wants to be one. Maxie believes in the movement. She wants to belong. She wants to join the struggle. But everyone keeps telling her she’s too young. At fourteen, she’s allowed to help out in the office, but she certainly can’t help patrol the streets. Then Maxie realizes that there is a traitor in their midst, and if she can figure out who it is, it may be her ticket to becoming a real Panther. But when she learns the truth, the knowledge threatens to destroy her world. Maxie must decide: Is becoming a Panther worth paying the ultimate price?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Magoon (Camo Girl) lyrically explores political and social uprisings in 1960s Chicago through the eyes of 14-year-old Maxie Brown, who is determined to join the Black Panthers: "The Panthers are going to change everything. I've known it all along, but now I can feel it all the way through me." Between the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King's assassination, and the Vietnam War, it's both a dangerous and energizing time to be alive. Maxie lives in poverty with her older brother, Raheem, who could soon be drafted, and her overworked mother, who brings home deadbeat boyfriends. She splits her days between wandering the neighborhood with her friends; navigating a tumultuous relationship with her love interest, Sam, whose brother was killed by the police; and volunteering at the Panther office. When two members go to jail, the chapter leader asks her to look out for a traitor within the party, but her discovery forces her to reassess her loyalties. This haunting story features fully developed characters, poetic images, and a conflicted heroine whose substance mirrors the complexities of her era. Ages 8–12. Agent: Michelle Humphrey, Martha Kaplan Agency. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
The Black Panthers seem to have the answers for Maxie and her friends, so when a traitor to the group is suspected, she is determined to find who is leaking information to the Chicago police. Maxie and her brother Raheem are deeply involved with the Black Panther Party. The shooting of a close friend and ongoing conflicts with the Chicago police make the radical group seem like the only protection they can count on. Problems at home--their mother's unemployment, drinking and various boyfriends--make the Panther office a refuge for Maxie, and she presses to become a real member: armed, trained and patrolling the streets like her brother. She is deemed too young, so when Maxie hears there may be a traitor in the Panthers, she decides to discover who it is and prove she is ready to take a real place in the organization. The discovery changes everything and forces Maxie to face almost unbearable truths. In this companion to award-winning A Rock and the River (2009), Magoon explores the role the Black Panthers played in urban communities during the tumultuous times of the late '60s. Maxie is a believable and feisty character. Her interactions with her brother and his efforts to be the parent their mother seems incapable of being both ring true, as does her relationship with Sam, still grieving the death of his brother. Historical moments such as the riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention strengthen the sense of time and place, but this is primarily an authentic story of a young person attempting to grasp where she will stand in the struggle. A well-written, compelling trip to a past not often portrayed in children's literature. (Historical fiction. 8-12)
School Library Journal
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

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
650L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


BAD THINGS HAPPEN IN THE HEAT, THEY say. It’s headed to be a scorcher. Dawn just barely cracking, sweat sheen already on the skin. Today could turn into a lot of things, but when it’s hot like this, ain’t none of them good.

There’s a knot in my stomach the size of my fist. No, bigger. Today’s the sort of day when it’s best to lay low, and that’s not what we’re doing.

Hamlin steers the old pickup through the Chicago streets real slow, headed toward the demonstration downtown. Squeezed up next to him in the cab, me and Emmalee and Patrice sit silent. We squint through the windshield into the sun rising over the lake.

It’s strange, the three of us being together like this but not saying nothing. Patrice knows how to work her mouth, and I can give her a run for her money. Emmalee always gets her word in too, no question. From the time we meet up every morning till we get to school or the Panther office, wherever. Jawing. And here we sit all wide-eyed dumb like strangers.

Then again, we’re usually alone. Right now Hamlin’s sitting so close his elbow bangs into me with every turn of the wheel.

“Sorry, Maxie.”

“It’s okay.” But I hold my arms crossed over my chest to keep him from hitting anything private.

In the back, perched among the boxes, is Raheem and the kid we all call Gumbo, real name: George. He came up from the way South some time ago and his voice holds that certain twang. Nice enough guy, decent-looking. People mostly say the same about Raheem, but seeing as he’s my brother, I can’t really judge. He’s back there and probably looking over my shoulder, as usual. Maybe even wishing he hadn’t let me come along.

Raheem’s always saying how he’s responsible for me, which means he won’t let me do anything that counts and he says “Maxie, when you’re older” as the answer to just about everything. Raheem’s a Black Panther already, and I’m going to be one too, just as soon as they let me. Fourteen’s not old enough, apparently.

Hamlin bends over the steering wheel as the truck curves through the Loop. He’s vigilant, studying our surroundings like he’s taking the temperature of things, as we get closer to the park. Block after block, the city comes awake—store windows snap open, people ease along the sidewalks, sip coffee, buy newspapers.

Today’s headlines should have been enough to scare us into staying home, with all their talk of police riots at the demonstration last night. Now everything seems calm and quiet. Like a regular Tuesday morning. Except for the police vehicles lining the streets, many more than I’ve ever seen at once.

Emmalee yawns, breaking the stillness. Cuts a sideways glance toward me. Beyond her, Patrice is chewing on her nails, the only one of us not even trying to hide her nervousness. I breathe out long and slow, trying to settle the knot in my belly. I got us into this, and we don’t even know yet what this really is.

I’m not usually scared to go to a demonstration, but Raheem says this one won’t be like any demonstration we’ve ever been to. He tried to warn me off coming, but I have to be there. The Democratic National Convention is the biggest thing to happen in Chicago since . . . I don’t know what, and if there’s going to be a demonstration and the Panthers are going to be there, then I’m going to be there too. I told him, plain as day.

The girls came along because we go everywhere together. Around the neighborhood people run our names together like one word: “Hey, MaxiePatriceEmmalee.” Inseparable. Close like sisters, for as long as I can remember. Through good times, sad times, crazy times. Right now qualifies as a downright rough time. The world is shifting—exploding, really—and none of us knows how to deal with it.

At least once a week, Emmalee still breaks down crying over Dr. King being killed, even though it happened nearly five months ago. She carries this book of his writings in her backpack like a Bible, all the pages folded down. We tried to tell her, if you fold down all the pages, what’s the point? But then she only cries harder. Patrice is matter-of-fact about it, thinks everything’s going to work out in the end, which is so far the opposite of me that sometimes we end up spitting, fighting mad at each other.

When I told the girls I wanted to join the Black Panthers, Patrice called me a hothead. Emmalee was excited but scared. They don’t know what joining entirely means and neither do I, but I know the Panthers are going to change everything and we have to be a part of it. When we go down to the community center on Wednesdays to hear Leroy Jackson speak, he makes me feel like things are finally going to get better. The Panthers are going to make it so that we never have to worry about being hungry, or losing our apartment, or getting arrested for no good reason. When Leroy throws his fist up in the air and shouts “All power to the people!” there’s this energy that rises up around me that’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before.

I tighten my fists in my lap. Maybe if I clench hard enough, I’ll start to feel powerful inside, instead of scared.

Emmalee sighs, leans her head against mine. She spreads her hand across my knotted knuckles. Her gentle fingers clutch mine, tight and trembling. I know she’s scared, probably more than me. I wouldn’t have made them come with me, but they’ve always got my back. That’s how it is with us.

Hamlin turns a corner, and suddenly the road ahead is clogged with cars. The vague echo of many voices chanting begins to reach us. I can sense the rhythm of the chant but can’t quite make out the words. It doesn’t sound familiar. Nothing about today feels familiar. This is an anti-war protest, Raheem told me, not a civil rights demonstration like we’re used to. Most of the people there will be white. I try to pretend we’re heading toward any old protest, but it’s no longer so easy to pretend because I can see them weaving among the cars. White face after white face, all tensed up and in a hurry. Traffic is practically stalled letting them pass.

Hamlin hums quietly for a while, which covers us in some kind of spell. Safe enough. I don’t mind the closeness in the cab. All pressed together like this, nothing can get to us. For a while. Then Hamlin stops humming, taps the wheel twice with his thumb, and the world beyond our little pocket merges closer.

The protestors seem to be coming from everywhere, out of buildings and alleys and some of the cars, carrying things and climbing over whatever’s in the way. A girl with white-blond hair and dirt-smudged skin edges around our front bumper, holding hands with a guy who has a thick bandage of white gauze taped to the side of his face. He stumbles, and she steadies him. Then they move on, away.

I glance across the cab at my friends, knowing it isn’t the time of day or Hamlin either that’s got our tongues tied. There’s something in the air. Heavier than heat and thicker than humidity. A feeling like we’re rolling into trouble.

Meet the Author

Kekla Magoon has worked with youth-serving nonprofit organizations in New York City and Chicago. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and her first novel, The Rock and the River, won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent. She resides in New York City and you can visit her at KeklaMagoon.com.

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Fire in the Streets 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Leamea1 More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book. As the second book following Sam's story, I truly enjoyed reading more about the characters. Maxie was a bit annoying in the first book, however this novel shows you why she acted the way she did, and how her life has shaped her. I would definitely recommend if you have read the first story. It would make very little sense if you hadn't. You will enjoy it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago