Los Angeles, 1992: Ashley Bennett is living her best life at the end of her senior year spending more time at the beach with her friends than in the classroom.
But Ashley’s summer of possibility seems like much less of a sure thing when four LAPD officers are acquitted after they beat a Black man named Rodney King nearly to death. Suddenly both Ashley and all of her friends are very aware that Ashley is the only Black girl in their group and one of the only black kids in the entire school.
As protests shift to violent riots and fires threaten the city, Ashley tries to pretend nothing is changing. As her sister throws herself into the center of the riots heedless of the consequences, Ashley tries to ignore all the cracks in her family’s facade of privilege. When Ashley accidentally helps her friends spread a rumor that could derail her classmate LaShawn’s college plans, she realizes she has to make amends.
Ashley has never felt like one of the Black kids but as she gets to know LaShawn and his friends, she realizes she still has a lot to learn about her family, her city, and her own place in both in The Black Kids (2020) by Christina Hammonds Reed.
The Black Kids is an intense debut novel and was a finalist for the 2020 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. This story plays out against the backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, it includes scenes of protests turning violent as well as racial slurs (notably the n word) used by characters. While these situations are addressed and interrogated in the story as Ashley learns to speak up for herself and for others, be advised of what to expect as you read.
Ashley’s first person narration is both lyrical and pragmatic. Ashley is very firmly grounded in her reality–fully aware of her sister’s self-destructive tendencies and her own precarious position surrounded by her white friends. At the same time, she also dreams of better days to come as she looks back on formative moments with her current best friends and learns more about her family’s history in LA.
There are no easy answers in this story and there are no perfect characters. Ashley is secretly hooking up with her best friend’s boyfriend, a new friend is furious when Ashley reports possible abuse, and the consequence for Ashley’s sister joining the riots are severe.
While the riots shape the larger narrative arc of this novel, The Black Kids is ultimately a smaller story about one girl’s growth (and her stumbles) as she learns to embrace every part of who she is–not just the parts she thinks people want to see.
Possible Pairings: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar, Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristen R. Lee,, Light It Up by Kekla Magoon, I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson