Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
“Because things have to get better, don’t they? Or maybe they don’t. But we do.”
I had the pleasure of being chosen to participate in THE BLACK KIDS book tour. Thank you to Hear Our Voices Book Tours and the publisher for the opportunity.
Set against the backdrop of Los Angeles, 1992, during the Rodney King riots, THE BLACK KIDS by Christina Hammonds Reed follows the main character, Ashley Bennet, as she navigates her senior year of high school.
Being one of the few Black kids at a predominantly white school and growing up wealthy and privileged, Ashley hasn’t had to face the atrocities committed against people of color in Los Angeles. Her main concerns are enjoying her senior year with her friends and getting into her dream college.
However, things begin to change when the four LAPD officers charged with using excessive force when arresting Rodney King are acquitted.
“They had the goddamn evidence right in front of their faces. It was right there, Ashley! I mean, they don’t see us even when they’re looking right at us.”
As riots ensue and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue living her life as normal; however, things are far from normal. Her sister Jo has gotten involved in the riots, life at home has its struggles, and she’s somehow managed to start a rumor that could destroy a black classmate’s future.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading THE BLACK KIDS. I wasn’t a teen in the ’90s, and I didn’t grow up wealthy, but there were still so many aspects to Ashely’s story that I could relate to. The Black struggle is universal.
During my preteen years, I lived in a small town where my family was the only Black family. My sister is younger than me, so we didn’t go to the same school. I was the only Black kid in my school. I’ve been stared at, called the N-word, and harassed by the police, all before the age of thirteen.
It’s unfortunate that many of the events that took place in a book set in the ’90s (and well before the ’90s) are still taking place today.
There were so many moments that I could relate to in terms of the injustices that black people face. However, it was the day in, day out subtleties that really hit home for me.
There were a few scenes in which someone would say something racially offensive to Ashley, and Ashely’s response was usually some version of “it’s okay.”
In one scene, in particular, Ashley’s friend Heather says, “Woman is the N-word of the world.” And when Ashley’s friend Courtney replies, “Don’t say that word with Ashley sitting right here.” Ashley responds, saying, “It’s cool. I get what she means.”
When I was younger, I also let inappropriate remarks like this slide by saying, “it’s cool.” As an adult, I’ve learned the importance of correcting people when things like this are said in my presence because it’s not “cool.” It’s unfortunate that as a Black person, you often have to feel uncomfortable for the sake of some else’s comfort. Even if they’re in the wrong.
Christina Hammonds Reed did such a great job at writing realistic characters. Any Black person who has ever gone to a predominantly white school has probably experienced at least one of the situations that Ashely found herself in with her group of friends. I have also been within a group of white friends who felt comfortable saying the N-word when used in rap lyrics.
I loved Ashley because while she was flawed, she was also on a journey of self-discovery. It was nice to see her character develop as the story went on.
Even though this book hit on some tough subjects, it felt good to read a story that used the word “bubbleguts” and featured hit songs from the ’90s!
I thoroughly enjoyed THE BLACK KIDS. The writing kept me engaged and the story was gripping. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
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. You can find her on Goodreads and Instagram.