Chapters 1–5

Cowritten by one of Malcolm X's daughters, this novel presents a fictionalized account of the activist's troubled youth.

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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. succumb
    give in or consent reluctantly
    They will always come for me, and I will always succumb.
  2. foster
    providing nurture though not related by blood or legal ties
    Now that we all live in separate foster homes, that breakfast is the only time of the week all eight of us can be together.
  3. quip
    make jokes or witty remarks
    “Ow!” Philbert staggers around the lot, pretending a serious head injury.
    “Who’s the bonehead now?” I quip.
  4. banter
    light teasing repartee
    “No,” I say, “that was a new one. I moved so fast, you didn’t even see me. Just call me Lightning Little.”
    Philbert straightens his shoulders, leaning into the banter. “Oh, I’ve got a better name for you...”
  5. lurch
    move haltingly and unsteadily
    The bus shimmies and shakes and finally lurches forward.
  6. dredge
    remove with or as with a power shovel
    I stood by the window, watching the lingering cloud of dust dredged up by the car tires as the government people drove off.
  7. chide
    scold or reprimand severely or angrily
    “You, too, Malcolm,” Mom chided me gently. I came away from the window to join my brothers and sisters in studying.
  8. periodical
    a publication that appears at fixed intervals
    She went about her business, sitting at the table writing an article for her periodical, a furrow of fierce concentration on her face.
  9. furrow
    a slight depression in the smoothness of a surface
    She went about her business, sitting at the table writing an article for her periodical, a furrow of fierce concentration on her face.
  10. subside
    wear off or die down
    I closed my eyes and let the sound of her voice wash over me, but the heartbeat of worry in my chest wouldn’t subside.
  11. welfare
    governmental provision of assistance to persons in need
    Back then we’d never heard of welfare. Papa took care of everything. He built our house with his own hands, and Mom’s vegetable garden fed us year-round.
  12. poised
    marked by balance or equilibrium and readiness for action
    Mom sat still, pen poised in hand, eyes fixed on her papers.
  13. meager
    deficient in amount or quality or extent
    It was supposed to be a moment to thank God for the nourishment before us, but through my cracked eyelids, the meager offering didn’t look like much to be thankful for.
  14. carrion
    the dead and rotting body of an animal; unfit for human food
    My mind streamed, full of thoughts; I could feel the government people circling like carrion birds. We were still alive, and yet they circled. Lying in wait.
  15. morsel
    a small amount of solid food; a mouthful
    “Yes, Mom,” we mumbled. I drew my hands back, coming away with the last morsel of my bread.
  16. sullen
    showing a brooding ill humor
    Philbert chomped through the rest of his own meal, freshly silent. Sullen.
  17. forage
    collect or look around for, as food
    Across the table, Mom dipped her spoon delicately into her bowl of foraged greens, as though she were eating a gourmet meal.
  18. parcel
    a wrapped package
    The store guy looked at us a little funny when I laid the money out on the counter. Lately, he was used to us coming around for the welfare parcels.
  19. loom
    hang over, as of something threatening, dark, or menacing
    Mrs. Stockton loomed over us finally. “Come with me.” She grabbed each of us by an ear and marched us straight down the road into town.
  20. smock
    a loose coverall that protects the clothes
    She wore a thicker, darker smock than the one Mom would come home wearing.
  21. seamstress
    someone who makes or mends clothes
    She must have been the shop owner or at least the head seamstress.
  22. appraise
    estimate the nature, quality, ability or significance of
    Her gaze flicked up and down, appraising Mrs. Stockton.
  23. falter
    move hesitatingly, as if about to give way
    Mom’s steps faltered. Her brow furrowed. She swallowed hard.
  24. balk
    refuse to comply
    The head seamstress balked, looking from Mom to us. “These are your children?”
  25. curt
    brief and to the point
    Mom nodded curtly. She stepped toward Mrs. Stockton, who had released our ears and now stood with her hands over her mouth.
  26. ware
    commodities offered for sale
    In the parking lot, I found a farmer’s pickup truck, chock-full of farm-related wares.
  27. sidle
    move unobtrusively or furtively
    I sidled up to the truck. The closest crate was right on the edge, beneath a bundle of rope.
  28. finality
    the quality of being definitely settled
    “You can’t take him,” Mom said. “You can’t.”
    The man slapped his portfolio closed. The soft smack screamed finality. “The foster home is only half a mile away. He won’t be far.”
  29. antic
    a playful, attention-getting act done for fun and amusement
    Maybe it had been me causing this trouble all along. All my antics. I was the problem, the one who couldn’t do right, no matter what.
  30. mite
    a slight but appreciable amount
    “Yeah, I reckon it’s getting a mite warm.”
  31. miner
    laborer who extracts ores and minerals
    There’s another Negro on the bus now, an old coal miner on his way back to Philadelphia.
  32. silver lining
    a consoling aspect of a difficult situation
    “Well, at least you’re out of the sun down there,” I say.
    He laughs. “I reckon. So you’re a silver-lining kind of lad, huh?”
  33. wily
    marked by skill in deception
    He hoots with laughter. “You’re a wily one. You must be trouble.”
  34. afflict
    cause great unhappiness for
    They would speak together with Papa about the tragic lynchings of young black men and women, and other challenges afflicting the black community.
  35. uppity
    arrogant or self-important
    “I know.” I hear the nervousness in his breath. Don’t get uppity. Don’t get out of line.
  36. contrition
    sorrow for sin arising from fear of damnation
    There’s a fierce expression in his eyes, tucked behind a thick layer of contrition. I only see it because I’m sitting.
  37. sprawling
    spreading out in different directions
    He gathers his things and moves across the aisle to join me in my seat. I squish myself against the window. He’s not a huge man, but big enough to stop me from sprawling the way I have been.
  38. muse
    reflect deeply on a subject
    “What can you really be?” Mr. Ostrowski mused. “A carpenter? You’re good with your hands, I think. That’s respectable work, carpentry.”
  39. dissipate
    cause to separate and go in different directions
    A cloud of dust rose as they drove Mom away from us. The usual cloud that turned the air brown and silty, but this time it failed to dissipate.
  40. billow
    rise and move, as in waves
    Neither Wilfred nor Hilda came out to the porch, so I sat there, long after the thick billowing exhaust fumes faded into the white landscape.
  41. obscure
    make unclear or less visible
    In the cold air, I caught a whiff of the promise of fresh snow; soon it would obscure my footsteps leading away.
  42. leaden
    lacking lightness or liveliness
    “Surely was,” the old miner says in a leaden voice. “Until they strung him up.”
  43. callus
    cause a thick or hard area of skin to form on
    He reaches out with a callused hand and covers my eyes.
  44. lynch
    kill without legal sanction
    There might not have been a rope, but it was a lynching all the same.
    They done lynched Earl. Didn’t even have the courage to do it outright.
  45. dingy
    thickly covered with ingrained dirt or soot
    I look away from the window, straight forward at the dingy gray back of the seat in front of me.
Created on December 7, 2017 (updated April 25, 2019)

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