Sam begins to see his older brother taking a different approach when he starts sneaking out at night and asking Sam to cover for him while he's gone. Sam doesn't understand what Stick has gotten involved in until he meets Maxie. Sam finds her fascinating and begins to spend more time with her. As their relationship deepens, he learns that her older brother is involved in a new group known as the Black Panthers. Their approach to gaining freedom is not through non-violence like Dr. King. Instead they carry guns and organize protests that include more than carrying signs and giving speeches.
When Sam discovers Stick is involved with the Black Panthers and learns that he even has a gun hidden in the bedroom they share, his first reaction is to cover up for his older brother. When pressed by his father for information, he reveals the truth violating his brother's trust and jeopardizing his relationship with Maxie who has followed her own brother's example and joined the group.
Young Sam faces a quick end to his childhood as he witnesses the beating of a close friend and false accusations that the friend actually caused it by threatening the cops who beat him. The death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and an attack on his own father lead Sam to believe maybe peaceful protests are not the answer.
Author Kekla Magoon brings this tumultuous time in history to life for readers of all ages, not just teens. Her story of Sam and his brother speak clearly about the feeling of the times, and perhaps even shed light on some of the problems of today. She vividly describes the frustration, the hatred, and the tension found in the streets of Chicago both before and after the tragic death of Dr. King. THE ROCK AND THE RIVER is a powerful statement about a powerful time.