‘The Black Kids’ Packs a Powerful, Timely Punch – Book Review
It’s 1992 and Ashley’s senior year of high school. With summer fast approaching in Los Angeles, Ashley and her friends are ready for a carefree summer before they are off to college and other adventures. But being the only Black person in the friend group makes Ashley the subject of many micro-aggressions that she typically lets slide.
However, all of that changes on a fateful April afternoon when four LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. In an instant, Ashley suddenly doesn’t know where she fits in. She tries to go about her life as if everything is normal – as if everything is the same as it was before, but that’s far from the truth. Riots have broken out and protestors have taken to the streets.
Christina Hammonds Reed’s The Black Kids holds nothing back. From the book’s very beginning it packs a punch and throughout, the hits just kept on coming. There is a lot to unpack in this novel and Reed does a great job of showing all of the inner-workings of Ashley’s life and just how all the moments depicted in the book were culminated to make up just who Ashley is due to what she’s experienced. From an affluent African-American family, Ashley already sticks out like a sore thumb amongst her group of friends because she is Black. There are a plethora of micro-aggressions she has to put up with and navigate through the book that will leave readers cringing, and likely wanting to scream (at Ashley’s so-called friends and just out of frustration).
There is a particular moment in The Black Kids that stuck with me even after I put the book down. The excerpt reads: “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?” For Black people, this seems to be the standard. Even Ashley’s grandmother points out to her that she needs to be better than everyone else in the room just to get the smallest piece of pie or the bare-minimum – and sometimes, one doesn’t even get that. Even at Ashley’s absolute best and brightest, her light is dimmed by those around her who treat her differently or expect she is meant to be a certain way simply because she is Black. In The Black Kids, Reed perfectly demonstrates the struggle that Black people face day-in and day-out and just how tired we are.
With the riots happening around her, Ashley finds herself wondering just where she fits in with all of it. While the book is definitely a coming-of-age story, it is one unlike any other I’ve read before. And while the book is about Ashley, Reed does a great job of showing the experiences of others who are not Ashley. For example, there is a scene where a group of young Black boys are being harassed by a police officer and when Ashley and her mother arrive home and her mother tells her father about what transpired, he asked if they did anything. Her mother replies that there wasn’t anything that could be done and that she didn’t want herself and Ashley to become targets themselves. Painting the experiences through those who look like her and her family, but are not her and her family was an important way of showing readers that while all people do not go through the same struggle, they still experience it in various ways.
The Black Kids is a brilliant exploration of systemic racism, class and family dynamics from the very first page. This book should be on everyone’s radar. It is important, timely and a page-turner. Be sure to add The Black Kids to your TBR lists; you won’t regret it!