Tariq Johnson was a sixteen-year-old black boy who lived in the ghetto. Like any other boy, one day he went to the store to get some items for his Momma as well as a Snickers bar for his younger sister Tina, who is developmentally delayed.
That’s when it happened. Tariq Johnson was shot twice and killed. Jack Franklin, his shooter, is a white man who is found innocent on the grounds of self-defense. The case stirs national controversy over race relations and gun violence.
Brilliantly written and chillingly reminiscent of Trayvon Martin’s case, How It Went Down details the aftermath of the death of sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson and its impact on immediate friends and family as well as the rest of his community on Peach Street. Kekla Magoon writes the story through a myriad of perspectives, including: Junior, his best friend who has been incarcerated for the past few years; Tina, Tariq’s little sister; and Reverend Alabaster Sloan, who uses this case as a means to gain empathy and popularity as he runs for office. Through a multitude of voices and experiences, we learn about grief, pain, anger, confusion, and a mix of other emotions as the mystery of Tariq’s death unveils day by day.
How It Went Down is also a story about gang involvement: a big controversy surrounding the case was Tariq’s potential involvement with the Kings, one of the prevalent gangs in the neighborhood. Tyrell, his best friend, learns that he might not have known Tariq as well he thought he did: “A week or so ago, Tariq was talking about the Kings again. He got like that from time to time. We all did. And I talked him down off it, because that was our deal. Did he go back on me?” (185).
It’s also a story about the school-to-prison pipeline. Junior was Tariq’s best friend in second grade; they even shared their fruit during lunch at school growing up. When Junior joined the Kings, Tariq gave him his blessings, even though they had promised each other to never join a gang. Junior knows that things are different now, with Tariq dead and Junior locked up for a crime he didn’t commit: “I still think about that now, eating off the metal trays in the prison cafeteria. Sometimes there is an apple or a banana, and I always think about him” (140).
Above all, it’s a story about learning to cope with loss. Kekla Magoon’s simple prose merges beautifully with the complex, emotionally exhausting themes about a story that is all-to-common in post-Jim Crow America.
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MLA Citation: Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down. Henry Holt and Company, 2014.