Sunday 20 September 2020

REVIEW: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's
Genre: Contemporary, Historical
Release Date: August 4th 2020
TW: Police brutality, Racism
Buy the Book: Book Depository

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 fa├žade 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?
This story follows Ashley in the run up to leaving high school and takes place during the Los Angeles race riots of 1992, which began after the police who brutally beat Rodney King were acquitted. Up until this point, Ashley has remained in the safety of the bubble her lifestyle has created for her, In which she doesn’t join in with the other black kids in the school, she doesn’t stand up for change like her sister, and she doesn’t call out the words of her white friends.

At the start of this story, it’s fair to say Ashley is not a likeable character. With the friends she’s surrounded herself with and the blind eye she turns to the problems of others, she is a privileged teenager in a private school that her parents worked so very hard to get her into. The story is not just about the events that occurred that year, it’s also about how they changed people like Ashley for ever. Though she’s experienced racism before, it’s the riots that make her want to change things for herself and the people she cares about.

Who I love most in this story is Ashley’s sister, Jo, and I wish we’d have gotten to know more about her world. She’s separated herself from the lifestyle she grew up in and decided she can’t stand by and do nothing. Her attitude and determination is one of the most powerful parts of this book.

  • Learning about real historical events. As a kid in Britain, I wasn’t taught things like this in high school. It shouldn’t have to be the responsibility of authors to teach us about these events, but I’m so grateful to the writers who do incorporate real history into their books. It taught me a lot and encouraged me to do further reading once I’d put the book down.  
  • The writing style. I loved how the story went from Ashley’s present day to her recalling stories from the past. It was a perfect way to help us learn more about the side characters, like Lucia and Jo. At times, it could feel a little messy, but it worked well for the story.
  • Dropping toxic friendships and finding places to feel comfortable. We see examples of the everyday racism that Ashley faces from even people she considers friends. It’s inspiring to see her slowly realise that she doesn’t need all of these people in her life, and she is able to branch out and find people who respect her.

People will always need to read books like this. It’s not supposed to be comfortable; it’s here to make you listen and think. The Black Kids reminds us that we still need change. The real-life events in this story took place in 1992, and yet it’s eerily similar to what we’ve witnessed this year alone. We need to do more

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