Review: How It Went Down

Author: Kekla Magoon
Date of Publication: October 21 2014
Pages: 336
Source: NetGalley- Thank you!

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.


How It Went Down goes where a lot of YA doesn't and just for that it deserves to be applauded. The story centres around a certain premise that is far too common in real life: a black kid is shot by a white man. What happened? Magoon effectively uses multiple POVs to offer a broad look at the impact such a tragedy can have on the community.

The writing was insightful and very thoughtful. There were many different voices and happily, they all stood out. Different characters warranted different writing styles and each perspective was about two pages, never surpassing a handful. You would think that a story like this would be a mess, confused by so many voices, but Magoon did a commendable job at focusing the story. There was one connecting theme to every passage: Tariq.

After having read How It Went Down, I feel like I know Tariq, and yet I don't. He seemed to be a firecracker of a kid, full of charisma and self assurance. He wanted more for himself and his friends. He loved his sister and came from a good family. He also had a side to him that almost invited trouble. A lot of characters used the term "punk" to describe him and it stuck with me. Most importantly about Tariq is that he is not all good or bad, but by no means did he ever deserve to die.

How It Went Down made me think even more about what's always going on in the news. I like to think of myself as someone that does try to listen and see the world as it is and even so, I was shocked and sad to read How It Went Down. The story is full of different people with different lives and how Tariq's death impacts them all. It also speaks a lot to racial intolerance and how hard it is to get justice for a black boy's death. There were elements like family issues, gang life, abusive relationships, and even people who believe that racism is over while it's still a dangerous world for people of colour.

I can't tell you if How It Went Down is accurate, but it feels that way to me. I'm lucky to never have lived in an environment like Tariq, and so I knew that this stuff existed: gangs, violence, drugs, but I never quite understood how. For kids like Tariq, the odds are against them. I've dealt with some struggles in terms of getting to university, but for kids that live in those sorts of neighbourhoods, it's exponentially harder. It's not even the studying aspect: these kids are not safe. The world doesn't care about them, and the people that say they care will use and abuse them. They get stuck in a cycle, and it's not their fault.

When people advocate for diversity in YA, How It Went Down is what happens, and I am so grateful that books like this exist because they need to. You don't understand the life you're living until you're confronted with another one. I can read articles about Ferguson, I can read so many statements and tweets and cry about them, but putting all those pieces together is How It Went Down, and it does that superbly. It sets the scene, and frankly, it's a story that needs to be read.

Now, in terms of more style related comments, How It Went Down is extremely engrossing, especially at the beginning. Near the end it does drag a little and the ending is extremely open. Nothing is really solved, and I feel like this is a book best read in bits and pieces rather than in massive chunks, like I did to finish it. The ending has its strengths and weaknesses, and I think I'll end up saying that it's very consistent with the rest of the book. It was pretty obvious what Magoon was trying to do and she did it extremely well, based on my rather ignorant opinion.

My biggest hope for How It Went Down is that this story can start a discussion, or at least open some eyes to some of the issues that still exist in our society, no matter how much we try to ignore them. In any case, I'm very thankful to Henry Holt for allowing me to review this title.



  1. What a great review! Sounds like this book really made you reflect, which is wonderful. Definitely bumps the book up on our list. And the timeliness doesn't hurt either. This could be a really powerful read for kids across the country.

    1. I absolutely think so. I really do hope that this book gets the publicity it deserves. I know so many people would love to read it but it seems like it's falling beneath the cracks.


  2. Oh wow this sounds like a really gritty and honest novel and I agree that books like this can often make you feel grateful for your own life and how easy we have it compared to some. I'm just sad that often they end up on the banned book list. As if kids finding out how real the world is will screw them up. Better to make them live in a happy bubble and throw them to the wolves later on, blind to what the real world is like, eh? Ugh! Great review, PE! I have had this one in my ereader and wasn't sure if I should give it a try or not, seems like it's a yay! :)

    1. I hope you end up enjoying it! I think all banned books do for me, personally, is make me want to read them even more. I feel like it's dangerous when people try to suppress and control ideas.



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