I’m so honoured and excited to share my review today as part of the book blog tour for The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed. Special thanks to Shivani at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for reaching out and asking if I’d like to be part of their tour for this incredible book. Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Goodreads: The Black Kids
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 04 August 2020
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Coming-of-Age
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?
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.
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
I finished this book last night and immediately tweeted about how it had me ugly crying (just a little bit) at 1AM. At this point, I’m not really sure what to say in this book review because I feel as if nothing I say can do it justice. (Sorry in advance for the waffling and blabbering in this review!) It was unsettling and it certainly made me uncomfortable. It was shocking and eye-opening. It made me cringe and gave me goosebumps. It made me angry as hell but it also made me ugly cry from all the hopeful feelings at the end. When looking at this cover (which I love), the vibrant colours and illustration kind of gives the impression of a fun YA contemporary but don’t be fooled–this book gets heavy. If there’s one thing I can say without doubt is that everyone should read this!
I think it’s probably one of the best coming-of-age stories that I’ve read in a very long time! It’s centred on issues of race and class, but the identity journey our protagonist goes through to learn about who she is in her society, what she’ll stand for, and connecting with her history and roots, is something that I think many readers can identify with. I know that I would’ve been over the moon discovering a book like this when I was younger but as an “adult” (*cough*) I’m so appreciative of the fact that it now exists.
There was something about the writing that I found so simple and clear but very beautiful and there ended up many quotes and passages I highlighted because they got me in my feels. I thought Hammonds Reed portrayed the voice of our teenage protagonist, Ashley, so well. There’s a blasé tone to her voice that screams jaded, spoiled, and very confused teenager of the 90s. Ashley was… an extremely flawed and unlikable character that I couldn’t help wanting to vigorously shake at some points but who I eventually managed to empathise with. These types of characters usually drive me mental but there’s no denying that Ashley goes through some incredible growth throughout this story. That said though, the emotional detachment in her voice was also what made it difficult to connect to a good portion of the book, and as we’re looking through Ashley’s perspective the whole time, it often made the pace feel very slow.
Aside from Ashley, many of the characters are flawed but realistic, no matter if they were horrible or decent; no one is one dimensional and you get to see many sides to them as the story progresses. Ashley’s friends were particularly annoying and toxic though. Kimberly especially was one of the most insidious and blatantly racist characters that I’ve had the displeasure of reading. There’s a bit of a cheating storyline that I didn’t really understand the point of (aside from showing how Ashley is flawed and confused), but compared to how I’d normally feel about cheating in books, I really didn’t feel sorry for the characters because they were so awful (I can’t even).
What was most harrowing to me though was that through this book, Hammonds Reed clearly points out that not much progress has been made since the 90s in regards to race and class issues. Although this book very clearly takes place in the the 90s when the riots started after the Rodney King incident, if minor tweaks were made (i.e. different incident, city, time), it could’ve basically been written about what recently happened after the George Floyd incident. Not just that but this book also exposes what happened in Tulsa in what was known as Black Wall Street, and other events that happened to the black community throughout history. As a Southeast Asian who lives in Asia and has never lived in America, the experience of what life is like for black people in America is literally foreign to me. It’s beyond shocking that what these black communities experienced then, is what they’re STILL facing now, and WHY. It’s horrifying, heavy, and disheartening and it left me speechless…
This book made me examine my privilege and it made me examine the actions of those around me throughout my lifetime. I learned so much through this book and I feel like it’s definitely one of those reads that will have a lasting impact on me. Despite the heaviness of the topics covered, Hammonds Reed does an incredible job ending the story in such a way that leaves you feeling hopeful and like actually, although everything isn’t perfect, it’s still going to be okay. I am so looking forward to reading anything else she writes in the future because book this was an exceptional story and I’d highly recommend it!
Have you read The Black Kids or is it on your TBR?