Title: The Black Kids
Author: Christina Hammonds Reed
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
Genre: Contemporary YA
Published: 4th August 2020 (paperback)
The Black Kids is a poignant and heartbreaking coming-of-age novel. Despite being set around the Rodney King riots in LA, 1992, it could have easily been a contemporary read; it felt so relevant to today’s world.
SPOILER LEVEL: LOW | This review contains minor details about the characters and plot of this novel that can be found on the blurb.
#gifted | I received an advanced e-copy of The Black Kids from @netgalley and @simonkidsuk in exchange for an honest review.
In this novel, Ashley is grappling with her identity as a Black teenager. She has never hung around with the Black kids and has allowed her friends micro-aggressions and blatant instances of racism slip as she knows that they ‘don’t really mean it’, and Ashley doesn’t see it as worth starting an argument over. She has never understood her older sister, Jo, who has always campaigned and spoke out against any acts of oppression. Ashley doesn’t see how the wider issues affect her sister, and she doesn’t see why she would want to get involved. That is until a Black man is murdered and the killers walk free, sending LA into a frenzy of riots. LA is burning, and Ashley’s friendships, family and relationships might just be burning too.
I found the beginning of this book a little slow to start, but I became hooked at about the halfway point of the novel. However, I did enjoy the exploration of family dynamics that are explored throughout this book, particularly between Ashley and her sister, Jo. I also found the relationship between Ashley and her nanny, Lucia, who she views as more of a second mother, to be really interesting – I haven’t read many books where the main character has a nanny that lives with them, and the elements of jealous that Ashley’s mum felt towards Lucia was very interesting to read about. The friendship dynamics were also really interesting in the way that Ashley is aware of her friends’ micro-aggressive and blatantly racist behaviour but doesn’t call them out for it, and how this changes throughout the novel. I definitely did not agree with the choices that Ashley makes (won’t say for spoilers) but I felt no sympathy for the characters’ affected by her actions.
A crucial element of this novel is police brutality, violence and racism but, at the same time, these elements were in the periphery, happening in the background. The novel foregrounded Ashley’s growth and struggle through her last weeks of high school, and the riots served as a backdrop but a definite catalyst to her changing mentality. There is an exploration of race and the intersectionality between gender and economic status, the way in which Black people are automatically assumed to be poor (such as being stopped for owning an expensive car) and that their achievements are reduced to that of fulfilling diversity quotas or being the token Black person in a company. It covered so many important topics and explored how they overlapped, intersected and are perpetuated.
The only downside for me, and it is a very personal preference, was that I didn’t enjoy aspects of the narrating/writing style. I’ve never really enjoyed books that speak to the reader, as it instantly pulls me out of the narrative and reminds me that I’m just reading a piece of fiction. In this book, Ashley says thinks like “I can’t tell you about this now, but I will” or “Let me tell you about what happened on Wednesday night” and I just don’t really like this style of writing. I enjoy being completely immersed in a book, reading it as though I’m living it in real-time and when references are made to what is going to happen next, it stops me from experiencing the book in that way.
This book was incredibly powerful and I would thoroughly recommend it to everyone.