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Growing Up X Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

I commend Ilyasha Shabazz for her courage to publish her memoirs in Growing Up X.  It is clearly an act of bravery for anyone to share intimate thoughts with the world.  I found it surprising that she led a rather normal, non-eventful life in Mt Vernon, New York because I, like many others, perceived her (and her sisters) as the legacy of two remarkable parents-thus making her destined to supercede their combined greatness.  Naturally, this is an unfair and often cruel expectation to place on children of infamous parents and Ilyasah shared how her mother worked hard to shield and protect them from the burden of proof.  She also enlightens the reader by saying she often would not to tell people of her parentage when she first met them for just those reasons.

The novel, which is largely a tribute to her mother, chronicles Ilyasah's life from her father's death to her mother's death. She begins by mentioning the Little Family (her father's family) kept their distance in early years and how her immediate family was largely sustained by members of the local mosque, close friends, her mother's relatives, and high profile celebrities who showed her mother kindness and support in a time of need. Despite the generosities of others, it was her mother's resolve and personal sacrifices that kept the family together.  She rehashes childhood memories of private school, summer camp, sisterhood bonding, and coming of age into adulthood.  She speaks of her first kiss, her juvenile experiences with prejudice/racism, her loss of virginity from rape, the many career changes, and the loves of her life--one of which was an NBA player that she thought she might marry.  These memories are simplistically and rather briefly written in a matter-of-factly type manner with little emotion.  The only exception is the heart-wrenching section where Ilyasah tells of her mother's battle for life after the fire set by Betty Shabazz's grandson, Malcolm, Quibillah's son.  I felt her pain through the pages of the novel and my heart goes out to her family. 

With the exception of a few events, I found Ilyasah's life to be quite ordinary and found myself wanting to learn more about the "holes" in the novel.  For example, she mentions that she never had visited her father's gravesite until she was an adult in college.  In fact, she did not know the gravesite's location upon arriving at the cemetery and just wandered around until she found it.  I suppose I wanted to know why they never visited his grave as a family unit, even for Father's Day (considering all attempts made by her mother for a 'normal' mainstream life).  The only explanation offered was that it would be too painful for her mother.

I found it equally extraordinary that her mother hires a home tutor to supplement their private school education ensuring they are properly and completely taught African history, Arabic, etc. however Ilyasah admits to having to learn of her father's political ideologies, beliefs, and struggles by taking a humanities class on Malcolm X in college. It is only then that she comes to truly appreciate and comprehend his influence and effect on society. Surely since her father has his honorableplace in American history, it almost seemed almost like an injustice to neglect this part of her heritage for so long.  Despite what this reader thinks, I am sure Mrs. Shabazz, or "Mommy" as she is referred to throughout the book, had her reasons and I am not second-guessing her judgment, just asking for clarification that is not apparent in the novel.  Ilyasah tries to clarify by stating that he was "Daddy" at home, nothing more and nothing less, which is totally justified.

Disappointingly, the book concludes at Mrs. Shabazz's death and I ended up have more questions than when I started about Ilyasah and her family.  I wanted to learn more about the Little family, Quibillah's FBI encounter (conspiracy to assassinate Louis Farrakhan), her sister's lives, and Malcom (the grandson).  From my understanding Ilyasah is working on a second novel about her parents, perhaps my questions will be answered in the upcoming body of work.

 The Nubian Circle Book Club rating is 3.5 out of 5 stars.  We welcome your comments and thoughts about this book review.  Please e-mail us at this address: