Ilyasah Shabazz & Renée Watson’s Betty Before X reads like the labor of love it clearly is. Both intimate and deliberately political, Shabazz and Watson humanize a larger than life American icon. Readers are introduced to Betty as an eleven year old girl with a complex past. She has experienced both loss and the horror of racism up close, but neither of these hard realities harden her. Instead, she remains open to family, friendship, and community. The writers do a brilliant job showing readers how essential religion and community were to young Betty as she negotiated a challenging family life as well as racism. We see Betty slowly develop a critical awareness of race as well as make activist connections.
This amazing fictionalized biography is written by a proud daughter and acclaimed author, so it should come as no surprise that plot and prose are perfectly executed. I highly recommend this book for young readers 8+ interested in US history, politics, biographies, or race issues in the US.