Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking those links, I will receive a small commission from the sale at no extra cost to you.The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook (368 pages)
Purchase: Amazon • IndieBound
Add Book: Goodreads • Bookhype
Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel is a unflinching exploration of race, class, and violence as well as the importance of being true to yourself.
Los Angeles, 1992
Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of high school 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.
But everything changes one afternoon in April, when four police 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?
Proceed With Caution:
The book contains several uses of the n-word, other racial slurs, police brutality, and racism.
Our narrator is seventeen-year-old Ashley, a black girl growing up in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots.
I have mixed feelings about The Black Kids. On one hand, I think it’s unique and important because I haven’t seen any other YA book discuss this period in history before. It also tackles race and racism in a different way. However, I felt like the narrative was jumpy and had no direction. It didn’t really “go there” for me because it was doing too many things at once.
The Black Kids starts off with Ashley hanging out with her closest friends, who are all white. We quickly see how she’s one of them, but also kind of not. They make careless comments about her being Black, often in a joking matter, when in reality it’s not really funny. Ashley doesn’t say anything to avoid rocking the boat. But things quickly change as the whole country was following the trial of the police who beat Rodney King. Ashley and her friends see the riots first hand but they don’t see the same thing.
Unfortunately, The Black Kids was all over the place. Ashley would be telling us about her friends and how she feels being the only Black girl in their group. Then she briefly mentions the trial and the riots. Then she’s talking about the star pupil, LaShawn. Then suddenly she’s hanging out with some girl named Lana, whom she’s never hung out with before. Then it’s the family’s vacuum repair business, and oh by the way I slept with my BFF’s boyfriend the other day, but back to the vacuums. Then flashbacks of her friendships, and oh yeah, riots are happening during Prom. Now back to LaShawn and Lana (who were both far more interesting than Ashley and her crew). There’s several more things happening within there, but I’m sure you get my point.
I wanted to love The Black Kids, and I think I would have if Ashley had been a more engaged narrator or if it had followed a different character. I just didn’t see where Ashley’s story was going. It didn’t really go anywhere for me honestly. It started with her and her friends in the pool and ended with her and her friends on the beach.
Quotes from The Black Kids:
The joke goes that in Los Angeles we have four seasons–fire, flood, earthquake, and drought. (page 5)
When you’ve known somebody too long, it’s like they’re talking to a version of you from years ago, even though you’ve updated all your software. (page 67)
It’s like my sister said: “We have to talk around being perfect all the time just to be seen as human. Don’t you ever get tired of being a symbol? Don’t you ever just want to be human?” (page 190)
I think of the black kids yesterday with their fists raised in protest and how I should’ve joined them. (page 226)
First things first: be pretty. Never take up too much space; your breasts, arms, lips, hips, thighs, and even your nose should always be just so. If your body should spill over just so or not quite fill it up, well, honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. Just don’t. Be a good girl, but not too good; nobody likes that girl. Laugh, but not too loud; you’ll make them nervous. No, don’t be sour, never that, even if you’re heaving a bad day, month, year, life. They’ll think you’re angry. Make sure you smile so they can see your teeth. Be smart, but never smarter than; or they’ll think you’re uppity. Be more. Yes, that’s it! Practice! Dream! Rise! Wait, no so high, girl! Those stars, they aren’t meant for you. (page 248)