A novelized account of Malcolm X’s early life is full of both a young man’s promise and the pain of racism and struggle of being Black in America. Growing up in 1930s Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm stands out as exceptional in a family that nurtured education and achievement. His outspoken father is killed when Malcolm is six. Seven years later, his mother, struggling to keep her family together and live by her values, is institutionalized. Malcolm leaves Lansing for Boston after a white teacher makes clear he thinks college out of Malcolm’s reach. Malcolm feels betrayed by his father’s promises.
Teenage Finn is the only person in Bone Gap who believes Roza, a young woman relatively new to town, was abducted. Finn is sure Roza was a prisoner in the car he saw her riding in, but he can’t describe the driver. Everyone else thinks he made up the story and was in love with Roza. In truth, Finn’s older brother Sean is the one in love with Roza, and Finn feels increasingly frustrated by Sean’s distant behavior and seeming lack of concern: Sean clearly assumes Roza left Bone Gap—and him—of her own accord.
Maya Younger has always been secure in who she is and where she is going. Her plan has always been to attend Spelman University together with her twin sister, Nikki, and their best friend, Essence. But, with the gentrification of their North Portland neighborhood during the summer before her senior year, everything in Maya’s world begins to change. Nikki starts shopping at the neighborhood’s hip new boutiques and befriends one of the new residents. Housing renovations and increased rents force Essence and her mother to find cheaper housing in seedier parts of Portland. The high school’s new principal eagerly finds ways to combat the school’s rough reputation while courting the new residents as he promotes a watered-down multiculturalism over the school’s traditional black history and community events.
When Pakistani American Naila’s parents find out she has a boyfriend they see it not only as a huge betrayal of trust but also worry how far from their culture and control she is moving. It doesn’t matter that Saif is Pakistani, too. Genuinely afraid for Naila, her parents take her to visit family in Pakistan the summer before she starts college. Naila doesn’t understand until it’s too late why they keep postponing their return: They’re arranging a marriage for her. After a failed escape attempt, Naila is drugged by her uncle and forced to marry Amin. He is a kind and patient young man who feels trapped in his own way by tradition.
n 1967, Rose is an old woman looking back on her childhood in Skullyville, Oklahoma, in 1897, in a novel that moves back and forth between Rose, her family and Choctaw community, and residents of the nearby town of Spiro. Among them is the marshall, a man who is despised by Choctaw and whites alike. His cruelty is often random, as when he strikes Amafo, Rose’s grandfather, at the train station one day. Amafo turns the other cheek, and in doing so finds allies among some of the whites in Spiro while leading his community away from confrontation.
Glory O’Brien is directionless as high school graduation approaches. She’s most comfortable looking at the world through a camera lens, and she views her own life with a certain dispassion, the way she views the people she photographs. But everything changes after she and her best friend, Ellie, drink the remains of a petrified bat. Glory can now see the history and the future of everyone she looks at. And the future Glory sees is far more unsettling than wondering if she will commit suicide in the not-too-distant future, like her photographer mother did when Glory was four. The visions Glory has over and over are of a second U.S. Civil War that erupts around a charismatic, misogynistic leader who strips women of their civil rights.