Updated: Mar 1, 2021
by Britta Kuhn
“Sometimes people, they see your skin, and all they know of you is war.”
Synopsis: Ashley Bennett is a senior in high school, preparing to go to prom and waiting to hear back from her dream college. She’s also Black. While her family is affluent and she’s best friends with the wealthy white girls at her prestigious (predominately white) school in Los Angeles, Ashley still feels like she doesn’t quite belong. It’s 1992, and the cops who assaulted Rodney King have just been acquitted. As the city erupts in violence and her sister gets wrapped up in it, Ashley tries to find her place and reconcile with her own feelings about race, class, womanhood, and being a teenager.
The Black Kids was the last book I read in 2020, and, wow, it was a great way to end a terrible year. Obviously, I’m a white girl living with white privilege, and I don’t think I can completely do this book justice in my review. Yet, I’d like to share my thoughts about this eye-opening book.
I was astonished by Reed’s ability to tackle such violent and complex subject matter with grace, vulnerability, and heart. She tells this story in such a down-to-earth yet lyrical way that it’s hard not to be pulled in from the first chapter. There are lines and passages in this novel that still resonates with me to this day. Reed has a way of setting youthful, witty voices against the backdrop of harrowing commentary about racism in America.
Although the story takes place in 1992, the characters and themes could’ve been easily plucked out of 2020. The Rodney King Riots are at the center of this story. However, Reed discusses much more than police brutality— topics such as Black Wall Street, colorism, the expectations placed on Black women, generational trauma, etc. She does so from the perspective of a young Black girl who’s still learning how the world works and is discovering more and more each day that it definitely doesn’t work in her favor. On the outside, Ashley is a quiet observer and we get gut-wrenching glimpses into her mind as she gains more confidence about her identity. Her city is torn apart by the riots, and so is her worldview. She loses friends, gains others, and learns more about her family throughout the story. In the end, she feels a little surer of her place in the world.
Many of the other characters are also well-written and multi-dimensional. The cast of 90s white girls from Southern California feels cringingly accurate. Each BIPOC character has a unique relationship to the riots, to police brutality, and to racism as a whole that is informed by their age, their family history, their income, and a hundred other factors. In particular, LaShawn, Lana, and Lucia are supporting characters that leap off the page with such ferocity that I couldn’t help but love them and their personal perspectives.
Personally, I would classify this kind of fictional social commentary story as “YA but more.” Additionally, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any age group. If you liked The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, this would be a good pick for you.
About the Author:
Christina Hammonds Reed is a Los Angeles native and holds an MFA from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. Her works have been featured in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story.
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