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Review: Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio by Derf Backderf

Title: Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

Author: Derf Backderf

Year Published: 2020

Category: Adult nonfiction (graphic novel)
Pages: 288
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map)USA (OH)

Summary (from Amazon): On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard gunned down unarmed college students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University. In a deadly barrage of 67 shots, 4 students were killed and 9 shot and wounded. It was the day America turned guns on its own children—a shocking event burned into our national memory. A few days prior, 10-year-old Derf Backderf saw those same Guardsmen patrolling his nearby hometown, sent in by the governor to crush a trucker strike. Using the journalism skills he employed on My Friend Dahmer and Trashed, Backderf has conducted extensive interviews and research to explore the lives of these four young people and the events of those four days in May, when the country seemed on the brink of tearing apart. Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, which will be published in time for the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, is a moving and troubling story about the bitter price of dissent—as relevant today as it was in 1970.

Review: I haven't seen any reviews of this book, but if you are interested in what happened at Kent State in 1970 then this is a really good book to read. It won the 2021 Alex Award from the ALA, which is given to adult books that will appeal to youth readers. I thought this was a YA graphic novel and think it will do well in high school libraries.

I thought I knew what happened at Kent State in 1970, and I did, I just didn't realize the details. It was difficult to read about the level of violence perpetrated on the Kent State students. I didn't realize the National Guard had been called in for multiple days, not just one. I also didn't know the history of SDS and the Weathermen at Kent State so all of that was really interesting.

The illustrations are a wonderful companion to the text, evoking a sense of the era and the clash between protestors, hippies, the FBI, and National Guard. The author does a good job of showing that both sides made mistakes, that both sides were blind to the impact of their actions, but that the government's actions were deplorable.

After the book ends, the author has included about 4 pages of discussion about what happened (or didn't happen) after the shootings. He covers all the major players, the court cases, and more. This is the most frustrating part of the history as no one seems to have been brought to justice. He also has about 10 pages of notes, showing his sources for all the quotes and story lines in the book. His research is fantastic.

I will leave you with a live video of Neil Young's "Ohio" as he payed it in 1971.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • A to Z (title)--"K"
  • YMA--Alex Award (adult books that will appeal to youth readers)

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