Last year, my students told me about the game Never Have I Ever, which they enjoyed playing in their classrooms. In this game, someone says something that they have never done or has never happened to them and those people who have done it would respond. For example, a student might say, “I have never traveled outside of the state,” and those students who had traveled outside of the state would then share where they had gone. Different phrases came to mind while reading Kekla Magoon’s new book, Light it Up, and these were not at all playful.
Never have I ever feared for my life when encountering a police officer. Never have I ever seen someone arrested for something they didn’t do. Never have I ever seen someone shot or beaten. The individuals who tell the story in Light it Up would have been able to provide multiple examples for each of these experiences. In fact, they do.
Light it Up, which I received through NetGalley and Henry Holt and Company, tells the story of what happens in a community after a thirteen-year-old, unarmed, African American girl is shot while running away from a police officer. Many, many voices are contained within this novel and each of them is unique. We hear from those who knew Shae personally and those who didn’t. All of these voices combine to show how interconnected we all are and how dangerous it can be when that is forgotten. They also communicate that each individual response is different, depending on identity and experience. There will never be one voice that can speak for all others, though those most connected to the experience should be heard loudest of all.
Magoon always does an extraordinary job of highlighting the differing views of her characters (see How it Went Down), but in Light it Up she goes even further to delineate how race, gender, class, and ability affect individual experiences. The power of this book comes from how the story encompasses each individual perspective while also communicating the sum of all of these parts.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Justice 12: I can recognize, describe and distinguish unfairness and injustice at different levels of society.
Justice 13: I can explain the short and long-term impact of biased words and behaviors and unjust practices, laws and institutions that limit the rights and freedoms of people based on their identity groups.
Justice 14: I am aware of the advantages and disadvantages I have in society because of my membership in different identity groups, and I know how this has affected my life.
RL.2- Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
RL.4- Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.
RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
RL.6- Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).