You know those books that you read at exactly the right time? That’s how it felt buddy reading The Black Kids with Emma. Considering the Black Lives Matter movement that ignited, reading this historical fiction about the Rodney King Riots was chilling. It’s a historical fiction that touches our lives today in poignant and emotional ways. Keep reading this book review to find out all the reasons I loved The Black Kids.
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?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: racism, suicide attempt of a family member
The Black Kids is a phenomenal debut featuring nuanced conversations about race, class, and privilege. Providing no easy answers, The Black Kids manages to balance a character development and introspection with writing that stops you in your tracks. There were some lines that I had to pause at because they were both insightful and emotional. It’s a book that examines our own internalized racism, the comments we don’t confront, and our own privilege.
There are no simple characters in The Black Kids. They are allowed to be as flawed, wrong, and brave on the page. While the The Black Kids unfolds slowly, reading it felt like witnessing an avalanche. You can see the pebbles falling, their absence growing, the crawling turning point in motion. Because waking up, realizing the systems of racism and classicism we may have been wading in, can be a slow process. It’s not just an abrupt moment like waking up from a nightmare.
Considering the recent Black Lives Matter movement, The Black Kids is even more emotional. The small moments that build up under our skin: being told we cannot be a mermaid, having people use racial slurs around us, haunting our footsteps in stores. Growing up in a mostly white school, I could relate to Ashley’s silences. Not knowing how to confront our friends, who we grew up with, when their words are racist and ignorant. When we decide if that is going to be what breaks us apart.
Reed’s debut is spectacular. Tackling nuanced conversations in such a charged and historic moment, she illustrates the extra ways BIPOC have to be perfect, knowing our mistakes not only weigh on us, but our peers and the future chances for other’s like us. During The Black Kids, Ashley must figure out the person she wants to be – not the person she has been until this moment, but who she wants to be tomorrow. Change and growing is a painful process, and some things weather the storm, and others are dashed to the shore.