REVIEW: The Black Kids

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The Black Kids
by Christina Hammonds Reed
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Released on August 4th, 2020
YOUNG ADULT FICTION—Historical, Contemporary

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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?

Trigger/Content Warning(s): Arrests, Cheating, Death, Drug Usage, Police Brutality, Underage Drinking, Suicide, Racism, Riots

6

There aren’t enough words in our dictionary to describe just how truly emotional this book made me. Between the characters, the writing style, the story as a whole–Christina Hammonds Reed has solidified a slot on my “books I’ve loved” list.

The Characters are Messy

I love messy characters, especially as teenagers. Teenagers will make bad decisions—that’s a given. When they become too perfect or too clean, they lose that sense of realness that a lot of readers seek. Reed didn’t do that in her book. She allowed her characters to be messy, to make mistakes and learn from them.

I especially adored our main character, Ashley, and how she went through the process of unraveling the ideals she grew up around and how to adapt and revel in who she truly belonged to be. She did things, some really bad things, that I think anyone would have been ashamed to admit, had they been in her situation. But she deal with it like someone who was maturing and looking at the world through a lens that had been hidden away. Even when she had to sacrifice something for someone else, she understood what would happen if she prioritized herself and her wants over someone else’s needs.

The relationships between family, friends, partners, and more were depicted very genuinely while reading. Ashley and her parents are estranged from her sister, but her parents more so. This was one of the first and only times I’ve actually seen a proper estrangement like this depicted in a book, because most of the time, it’s seen as some silly little thing that doesn’t need to be addressed. But when it came to Jo, I saw so much hurt and pain and need in her character, things her parents and her sister were all missing. It was like a gut punch reading it on the book’s pages because it was immersive and real.

The Addiction of the Writing Style

And that then leads into Reed’s writing style. I was enthralled by it. It felt like every page I turned, I needed more and more and more. I personally liked the overly monologue-eske writing style from this author, as it’s done in a way that isn’t overbearing or annoying or boring. It keeps readers attentive, especially to detail.

Ashley’s character speaks through a lot of flashbacks and even some analogies. Having those on-page was necessary to the story as a whole, and it wouldn’t have been what it was without the author’s writing style to emphasize it.

Although, I did have a bit of a hard time with the pacing in certain areas of the book. At times, it felt like the story was dragging in parts, whereas in others, it was either perfectly paced or a bit faster. My preference lies in the latter two of the three, so it did get a bit difficult to read through those specific parts of the story.

A Memorable Story

Reed took us through a historical part of American history. The brutal beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers, the acquittal of said officers, the riots and protesting that followed—though not the frontal theme of the story, it was still a huge part and influence on the characters and their lives. It impacted their decisions, their conversations. It enforced a wave of fear and worry. And Reed truly made it jump out to the reader, on-page, just how important it is to notice and understand this.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed and adored this book. There were multiple points where I wanted to reach into the story and smack certain characters (aka Kim), and other times I wanted to reach out and provide a hug. For that, I rate this book 4.5 stars. I look forward to reading from Christina Hammonds Reed in the future, and I cannot wait to see what masterpiece she puts out next.

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DELChristina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A native of the Los Angeles area, her work has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story. Her first novel, The Black Kids, was a New York Times bestseller and William C. Morris Award Finalist.


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