Hard Hitting Historical Fiction

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katnortonwriter Avatar


First off, as a white reader, there's a lot in here that I don't feel qualified to weigh in on.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO follows two young men: a college student named Kevin in 1968 protesting the construction of the Columbia gym, and a high school in 1995 named Gibran trying to get permission from his predominantly white high school to attend the Million Man March.

Neither of these characters are perfect. They both make mistakes throughout the course of the story, and while the main themes center around what it means to be a Black man in America, this book also addresses generational trauma, the impacts of politics on interpersonal relationships, and how Black women are (or aren't) generally included in the conversation. Kevin isn't sure of where he falls in the movement, and Gibran is quick to anger as his fuse gets shorter with each injustice he experiences at his school. They're both trying to figure out how to balance their need for social change with their desire to be part of their community, while also struggling to meet the emotional needs of their friends and family.

I recently read the MARCH trilogy, which provided a large context for the conversations about the SNCC and NOI, etc., which I found very helpful for understanding the nuance of some of the conversations. That said, I think the message and the character development doesn't rely on understanding the minutiae of the politics, so much as how the conversations of those politics apply to the story.

As you might be able to tell from the rest of this review, this is a fairly dense book that gets into a bunch of topics, but it always centers the characters first. I enjoyed it, and I admit that I didn't know anything about the Columbia gym protest before this.

At its heart, this book is about two young men trying to find themselves, and I loved how it all came together at the end. Gibran's story might be set in the '90s, but the conversations that happen in his timeline are extremely relevant.

I'd like to add that while this book focuses on a distinctly Black experience, there are a number of scenes designed to make white readers sit with and consider uncomfortable truths. I'd love to see conversations around this book when it releases, because there's a lot to unpack.

Thank you to Bookishfirst for the ARC. My review is voluntary and entirely my own.