The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (Review)

We have to walk around being perfect all the time just to be seen as human. Don't you ever get tired of being a symbol? Don't you ever just want to be human?

People glorify protest when white kids do it, when it’s chic, frustrated Parisian kids or British coal miners or suffragettes smashing windows and throwing firebombs at inequality.

A topical and interesting coming-of-age story with a gorgeous cover that I couldn’t resist. Even if this isn’t your usual genre, this is worth a pick up for sure. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the eARC of this book, it hasn’t affected my honest opinions.

Rating: 4 stars!

Trigger Warnings: police brutality, suicide, protests, rioting, arson.

The plot:

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?

What did I think?

It took me a little while to get into this book, but that’s probably just because it’s got a strong contemporary feel to it and that’s not my favourite genre. In saying that, once I got into this book, I was completely hooked on it. I was expecting the trial and the protests that fired up as a response to the LAPD officers getting acquitted to be the main plot of this book, but actually it felt much more like a coming of age story where Ashley, the main character, was finding herself and where she fits into her communities. Ashley is a hell of a protagonist, and I loved how well-written and real she was.

For someone who doesn’t read a lot of coming-of-age stories, I absolutely adored this one. I felt intensely emotionally attached to Ashley and her journey as she struggled with the explosive racial tensions in her community, and found herself torn between feeling ‘not Black enough’ for her community and ‘not white enough’ for her schoolmates. As a white reader I could never begin to imagine what it feels like to be torn in your own identity like that, but Christina Hammonds Reed does an incredible job of portraying the conflict and uncertainty in Ashley in a way that made my heart hurt. The setting itself was incredibly vivid and I loved the descriptions in this book. I felt at several points like I was walking down the streets alongside Ashley because they were so well described and the time period was so distinct.

Ashley’s ‘friends’ were deeply dislikable. I hated the way they treated her and the microaggressions that she suffered, particularly in moments when they acknowledged that she would be treated worse than them because she’s Black without seeming to care that their behaviour enabled it, and even joking about it at times. It was eye-opening to me to see so many little comments from Ashley’s perspective, and definitely made me think about how I can better challenge those so-called ‘harmless’ comments that aren’t harmless at all.

I adored the way this book handled Ashley’s family relationships, and how they were impacted differently by the protests. The scenes where the whole family were together were raw and real and I loved each member of her family – particularly their flawed and loving relationships. Reading about the protests was exactly as heart-breaking and enraging as I expected, knowing that thirty years later, the exact same fight is still being fought in Black neighbourhoods policed by white cops who get away with brutalising Black people under the guise of ‘protecting’.

Links:

The BLM carrd again.

Add it on Goodreads here!

Buy at Hive if you can and support your local indie booksellers! Also available at Waterstones and Amazon.

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