I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: YA Historical Fiction
Source: the publisher
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“Infused with honesty, heart, and humor, The Black Kids is a true love letter to Los Angeles, highlighting the beauty and flaws of the city, and the people who call it home.” —Brandy Colbert, award-winning author of Little & Lion
Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel explores issues of race, class, and violence through the eyes of a wealthy black teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Rodney King Riots.
Los Angeles, 1992
Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year and they’re spending more time at the beach than in the classroom. They can already feel the sunny days and endless possibilities of summer.
Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.
As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. Even as her self-destructive sister gets dangerously involved in the riots. Even as the model black family façade her wealthy and prominent parents have built starts to crumble. Even as her best friends help spread a rumor that could completely derail the future of her classmate and fellow black kid, LaShawn Johnson.
With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?
The Rodney King trial and riots that followed were very much a big event even in Missouri where I live. In fact, in Warrensburg, MO, where I was in college at the time, we had riots on the night before the last day of finals. I remember going to bed with my window open, being alone because my roommate had already finished her finals for the year and headed home. I remember it was louder than I would think, so closed the windows, and even then it was still kind of loud as I fell asleep. I assumed it was just people partying during finals week. I woke up the next morning to a phone call from my mom because it had been on the news about rioting in the downtown area of Warrensburg. I’d slept through it. But I saw the damage done when I drove through the downtown area on my way home after my last final that day.
So because of my own remembrance of this time, the fact I was only a sophomore that year, only a couple years older than the main character who is a senior in this book, I was really interested to read this when I heard its plotline. And honestly, for the most part, this book did not disappoint at all. This is a story that while it is historical fiction in truth, it has so many connections to the world around us today that it is the perfect time for it to be published.
What I liked was how the main character, Ashley, may have been in a middle class or maybe even upper class family, but her family had roots in Los Angeles. Her grandmother’s store that her uncle still ran was right in the middle of all the chaos. And while Ashley may have grown up with the white girls, the cheerleaders at her school, she’s always, or at least since she was little, known there were differences. She’s dealt with them using the n-word, even though it bothers her. She’s made fun or at least nicknamed the “black kids” that go to her school, most of them are scholarship kids, so she didn’t grow up with them, like her white girlfriends.
But even with her being in the middle of this, she has an older sister who has always been into the protests and wanting to do more. An older sister who dropped out of college and got married without telling their parents. One who is living down near most of the rioting, and is taking part as a member of a Communist group, and spray-painting messages. She has a nanny, but her nanny is from Guatemala and has her own past of horrible events in her country that she fled to get away from, to make enough money to pay for her own children to be safe and in good schools.
There was just so much in this book. We don’t just get the history of the time period the story takes place in, but we also get more history of Ashley’s own family, a connection to the Tulsa Race Massacre. Something I don’t remember learning about while I was in school, but have as an adult, now working in an inner city school, I have heard our history teachers teach about all of this. Massacres that we may only think occurred in other countries, like Guatemala, but actually still occurred in our own country.
I’ll conclude by saying that this was a really, really good book. However, there were times that I felt like maybe I was getting too much and I’d have preferred not so many different story-lines going on. So that is why I dropped to a 4.5. I wonder if a lot of teens would continue reading through some of it, as the beginning third or so I did have a little bit of a hard time and had to push through. But I will definitely be purchasing for my school library, probably e-book for now with our kids going virtual for the first nine weeks, but I’ll want a physical copy on our shelves too.
About the Author:
Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A native of the Los Angeles area, her work has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story. The Black Kids is her first novel.