Betty Before X

by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018
256 pages

Betty Before X
Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson

ISBN: 978-0-374-30610-6

Ages 8-12

Ilyasah Shabazz’s fictionalized account of her mother’s childhood, written with Renée Watson, emphasizes Betty’s resilience and compassion, showing signs of the remarkable woman she would become as the wife of Malcolm X and with her own accomplishments. Abused and unwanted by her biological mother, young Betty spends the first six years of her life in the loving care of her aunt Fannie Mae in Georgia. Following Fannie Mae’s death, Betty joins her mother, Ollie Mae, and Ollie Mae’s husband and children in Detroit. In the late 1940s, Betty is a young teenager who loves and is loved by her younger sisters but mistreated by Ollie Mae. Betty eventually finds a home with Mrs. and Mr. Malloy, members of her church. Mrs. Malloy is active in the Housewives’ League, an organization that encourages African Americans to boycott businesses that refuse to hire them. When Betty joins the League as a junior member, her identity as an activist begins to emerge, and she gains a sharper—and painful—understanding of racism and oppression, as well as of the diversity of opinions within her community. Some, like Betty’s friend Phyllis, strongly oppose the League’s methods of effecting change. Through it all, Betty delights in friendship and chosen family, while her relationship with Ollie Mae is contentious yet slowly evolving. Notes about 1940s Detroit, the characters, and the supportive Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church community are included. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center