Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel explores issues of race, class, and violence through the eyes of a wealthy black teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Rodney King Riots.
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?---from the publisher
368 pages 978-1534462724 Ages 14 and up
Keywords: African American, diversity, diverse books, Black Lives Matter, city living, social issues, high school, school issues, coming of age, 14 year old, 15 year old, 16 year old, racism, social justice
“But hey yo, Mr Officer, you know where you can stick it
I say this to myself. I let him do his thing
Or he might beat me down just like he beat down Rodney King.”
-- Frost “I Got Pulled Over” (1992)
“My parents and grandparents have made it so that Jo and I know nothing. We know nothing of crack or gangs or poverty. We know nothing of welfare or Section 8 housing or food stamps or social workers. We know nothing of schools with metal detectors and security but no books. We know nothing of homegoings or small coffins. We know nothing of hunger. We are, according to my father, spoiled little brats.
Once Jo and I got into a really big fight because I stole her favorite shirt, which she didn’t even wear anymore, from her closet, and when she went to push me, we tussled and I bit her until I drew blood in an itty-bitty rainbow across her palm. I still had mostly baby teeth then. She pulled her hand back in shock, examining her wound. After we’d both peered down at it in awe, she used her injured hand to slap me across the face, hard.
‘Stay out of my room! Stay out of my stuff!’ she screamed at the top of her lungs, as though she was possessed. ‘It’s mine.’
‘You spoiled little brats.’ My father appeared out of nowhere, as if summoned by this demon child. He dragged us by our arms down the stairs and out the house as we tried to hit each other and hollered, ‘She started it!’
‘Where are we going,’ we yelled as he stuffed us into the car, but once we got on the road, none of us said a word.
My father drove us somewhere not that far away and parked in front of a house the size of our garage. A citrus tree dropped its flesh in the front yard. A group of girls jumped rope. There was the clack, clack, clack of round barrettes, the sound of little black girls in fits of flight. I think maybe it was a dangerous neighborhood, but you wouldn’t have known it at that moment.
‘Seven of us in there. Me, my mother, my grandmother, my aunt Minnie, my two cousins, and your uncle Ronnie. That was the first house we lived in here, before we could afford to buy our own,’ he said.”
On April 29, 1992, four police officers who had brutally beaten Black LA resident Rodney King, following a high-speed car chase, were found not guilty of employing excessive force.
The verdict seemed then to be unjust, as it seems even more so today. What happened was indisputable because a neighbor had videotaped the beating and shared it with a local TV station. This was the first “viral” video to expose racial violence in American law enforcement: Anybody and everybody who watched George Holloway’s camcorder video got the picture. That evidence, coupled with the not guilty verdict, led to a deadly uprising in Los Angeles, just as last summer’s police murder of George Floyd, also caught on video, would ignite the country a generation later.
THE BLACK KIDS offers a fascinating perspective on the verdict and subsequent riots. Ashley Bennett, a Black high school senior with wealthy parents, lives in a safe LA neighborhood, goes to an upscale private school, and hopes to attend Stanford. Her three lifelong girlfriends are all white, and together they do their share of teen drinking, smoking weed, and b.s.ing parents.
But as the riots ensue and the clock ticks down toward Graduation Day, cracks will shatter the solidarity of these four young women. Ashley is awakened to her Blackness by the events and belatedly connects with the Black kids at her school who have previously been all but strangers to her.
Meanwhile, Ashley’s rebellious big sister Jo has quit college, gotten married, and is identifying as a Communist, while hitting the street in protest of the verdict. Ashley and her parents fear what could happen to Jo in the midst of the action.
When they were little, Ashley and Jo's father had told them that they didn’t know anything of what other Black kids in LA dealt with. But Jo has been educating herself and learning the upsetting hidden family history, which involved their late Grandmother Shirley, who, at seven, survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
First-time YA author Christina Hammonds Reed blew me away with this gripping tale that never lets up. Another incident that contributed to the LA uprising--the murder of Black teenager Latasha Harlins by a merchant--is also part of the story.
A 2018 CNN article listed some of the reasons why the police had recently been called to investigate Black people. Those reasons included operating a lemonade stand; barbequing at a park; working out at a gym; campaigning door to door; moving into an apartment; shopping for prom clothes, asking for directions; and on and on and on...
“Racism is deep with the DNA and the bones of the structures of our nation, and so it is a tall order for any one person to change it.”
--Jeanelle Austin, Black activist from George Floyd’s Minneapolis neighborhood
Let’s hope that the new administration can significantly advance racial equity and put a stop to the all-too-frequent police harassment, beatings, and murders of Black Americans.
In this post-George Floyd era, THE BLACK KIDS is a must-read for today’s young adults.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
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