Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Source: The Publisher, Blog Tour
Cover Artist: Lucy Ruth Cummins
My content rating: YA (Some violence; Characters have sex, but it;s not shown)
“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?
One thing you need to know going into this book is that it’s more of a slice of life book than a story about the Rodney King protests. Everything that happened in Los Angeles during that time informed how Ashley felt and responded to the world around her, but don’t expect much of the plot to revolve directly around that. Most of the story is just about her typical high school life—relationships with boys, friendships, hopes for college, etc. It’s a character study of a black girl growing up with privilege (in many ways) and how that is juxtaposed with the central message that she always has to do better than those around her in order to be seen as worthy. Ironically, she struggles to identify with “the black kids” in her school, even though she is one, and this leads her to a crisis of identity in many ways. Who is she? Who should she be? And does she have to pick a side?
The thing that stands out the most about this book for me is just how little progress has been made since Rodney King was killed. Here we are, almost thirty years later having these very same debates, while black and brown people are still dying. I’m glad I read this just for the reminder that we need to keep fighting. That we can’t let these issues fade into the background as time goes on because they won’t go away on their own. History has proven that. I also learned about a black massacre I didn’t know existed. The book was worth it for me, just because of that. And while I sometimes wished that the plot had gotten closer to the actual Rodney King protests, I was enriched by simply reading the perspective of one person who lived during that time and how it all affected her. It’s a perspective that can inform how I still think about the world today.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Her short fiction has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review. She lives in Hermosa Beach, CA.