On My Bookshelf: Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson

March 23, 2020

Betty Before X is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, and was written by her daughter Ilyasah Shabazz in collaboration with Renee Watson. Betty's story is one of struggle from a young age, but her inner strength and determination to do right never waver. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
The basic plot from Amazon: In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

Inspired by Betty's real life―but expanded upon and fictionalized through collaboration with novelist Renée Watson―Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood with this book, painting an inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today.

Betty Before X is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, and was written by her daughter Ilyasah Shabazz in collaboration with Renee Watson. Betty's story is one of struggle from a young age, but her inner strength and determination to do right never waver. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.
Why I liked it: Betty Before X is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, and was written by her daughter Ilyasah Shabazz in collaboration with Renee Watson. Betty's story is one of struggle from a young age, but her inner strength and determination to do right never waver. Set in the late 19040s in Detroit, the novel sheds light on the struggle for equality and includes Betty's almost poetic hopes and prayers for the future.

Betty’s early years are spent with her aunt and grandmother after they discover her mother’s struggles to parent Betty. Betty experiences life in the South, including lynchings, before moving North to rejoin her mother and her new family. Her mother favors Betty’s half-siblings and treats Betty more harshly because of her “no good” father. Betty find respite in her close friendships, the women of her church, and an activist group of women in her neighborhood.

Classroom application: I would recommend this book for middle school and up. A possible after reading research topic would be the Detroit AME, the church Betty attends where important figures like Thurgood Marshall and Paul Robeson make appearances. Betty’s descriptions of the church and its visitors illustrate the strength and interconnectedness of the black community during this time period. Another possible after reading research topic would be the tensions following WWII between blacks and whites.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Betty Before X for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Betty Before X is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, and was written by her daughter Ilyasah Shabazz in collaboration with Renee Watson. Betty's story is one of struggle from a young age, but her inner strength and determination to do right never waver. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom use.

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