Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on August 4, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed is a poignant coming of age story set in Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King Riots. It follows Ashley Bennett, a wealthy black teen whose parents have raised her in such a way as to shelter her from the struggles, and particularly, the racism that faces the black community. Ashley attends a mostly white private school and her childhood friends are all white. The only black kids she knows are those who attend her school on scholarships, but they keep to themselves and she doesn’t interact with them. When the novel opens, Ashley’s most pressing concerns are whether to go to school or ditch and hang out with her friends at the pool or beach.
Everything changes, however, when the police officers who were captured on video brutally beating Rodney King, a black man, are acquitted. Rightfully so, the black community is outraged and so the L.A. riots began. The beating, acquittal, and subsequent riots is such big news that there’s no way Ashley can be sheltered from it, and it soon becomes a revelation to her that makes her question everything about herself – her privileged life, her disconnect with the black community, and her entire sense of self.
Ashley’s inner monologue was what really made this story so powerful for me. I just found myself so moved by all of the emotions going through her head as she truly has to re-evaluate everything she has ever known now that she is faced with this new harsher reality. Ashley is also worried sick about her older sister, who abandoned that sheltered life and is out protesting for justice right in the middle of the riots. My heart especially broke for Ashley when during an argument with one of her childhood friends, the friend lets the ‘n’ word fly. Hearing that hate come out of her friend’s mouth for the first time makes her realize that perhaps it’s time to move on and find friends who understand what she is going through and what a mess her head is because of it. Even though my heart broke for her at the loss of friendship, it also soared for her as she slowly starts to find her way, figure out who she is, and who the best kinds of friends are for her.
Ashley’s journey in The Black Kids is a hard one, but as hard as it was, I still loved watching her learn and grow, and discover a new sense of identity. I also thought it was very powerful to watch the riots unfold through the eyes of a frightened and confused black teen. I’m old enough that I remember watching the riots on TV, but Ashley’s perspective is an entirely different one and it really hit me hard as I was reading. It also made me sad in the sense that it’s now almost 30 years since those riots and we still have so much more work to do when it comes to fighting racial injustice. I’m glad to see more and more books like The Black Kids and hope they will inspire all of us to understand and to do better.