By Author / Illustrator
Christina Hammonds Reed
Representation & Inclusion
Simon & Schuster Ltd
Paperback / softback
Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel is a unflinching exploration of race, class, and violence as well as the importance of being true to yourself.
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 facade 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?
Ashley is part of the 'in-crowd' at school. Wealthy, glossy kids on the brink of adulthood leading privileged lives with monied parents and no real worries beyond what to wear and when to hit the beach. Being the only black kid in the their tight-knot group has never been a problem for Ashley - the casual racism that she experiences is the price she pays for acceptance and inclusion and she has never really questioned it.
This all changes with the brutal beating of Rodney King in downtown LA. When the police officers who attacked him are acquitted, all hell breaks loose and even Ashley in her gilded community, away from the looting and rioting, begins to feel the repercussions. Questioning her race and identity, Ashley begins to feel different from her friends and, for the first time, is drawn to the black kids she has always avoided.
With a brilliant and vivid nineties setting, The Black Kids is an exploration of race and class but also a coming-of-age story about Ashley's confusion as she approaches adulthood. There's initially a slow, languid feel to the writing that draws the reader in to the charmed life of the pretty and popular friends, but there's always a sense of foreboding and tension which finally explodes with the riots.
This is a powerful and compassionate book that is incredibly timely and sure to resonate with any teenagers struggling with identity, race and their place in the world.
368 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+