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?
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via NetGalley and Simon & Schuster UK in exchange for an honest review, so a big thank you to them*
Trigger warnings: racism, racial slurs – police brutality, micro agressions, suicide, generational trauma, physical violence, destruction of property,
The Black Kids is an engaging and impactful coming of age story and a debut novel which is so timely and relevant, despite being set in LA in 1992. It’s sad to think that the very same discussions and issues are recurring in our society but this book is sobering in the perspective it offers and unique in the way it portrays one young Black womans political and social awakening. I feel like this is a book which would be so beneficial in schools, taught on the curriculum and can be read and digested by all ages seeking to read a novel, which is powerful in many ways.
I also want to mention, that while I enjoyed this book I’m not an own voices reviewer for this book, so I wanted to include a link to the Hear Our Voices tour schedule for The Black Kids, so you can read some amazing bloggers thoughts, enjoy their reviews and content and also learn from what they have to say! Hear Our Voices Book Tours has been running an amazing blog tour for this book, with a variety of content ranging from a video interview with the author, to an original book tag, playlists, mood boards and of course, reviews. You can find the tour schedule – here – I would really encourage you guys to check it out and check out all these creators content!
One of the greatest things about this novel – of which there are many – is about how realistically portrayed everything is. From the humdrum of life in general to the complexities of family relationships, friendships, generational trauma and racial tensions, class and social divides. There is so much ground covered within this novel and I genuinely believe this is one of the best examples of a young adult contemporary which examines a range of issues and does so in a way which feels accessible but doesn’t compromise on the messages.
It’s an unapologetic book which doesn’t feel like it’s trying to appease anyone and I appreciated this so much. The depiction of the event which triggered the protests, the brutal beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the police officers involved rings so painfully true and the fact that it continues to happen to this day is an utter disgrace. There is a very relevant quote from the book which I’ll insert here which says it all about the public reactions to protests and who is deemed ‘permissible’ to voice their pain and anger, and who is not. Does the quote below not truly say it all?
“People glorify protest when white kids do it, when it’s chic, frustrated Parisian kids or British coal miners or suffragettes smashing windows and throwing firebombs at inequality.”
This sense of realism translates into so many aspects of the novel, but especially in the nature of the teen / high school experience and the way racism and microagressions are perpetuated in these institutions. As the story progresses, Ashley has to come to terms with who her friends really are and problematic elements of their behaviour, including micro aggressions to the language they feel comfortable using around her and their privileged outlook on life. Ashley’s relationships with her friends is also more complex due to the fact that she is the only Black person in her friendship group and she actively doesn’t associate with the other Black kids at her school, feeling disconnected from them. I feel like this is so real in so many ways, not just because of the more problematic things her friends engage in and how she has to confront this, but also the general feeling of wondering whether the people you’ve grown up with are not who you thought they were and acknowledging how friendships can change over time as well. It’s a painful lesson but one I feel many readers, whether they’re teens or not will be able to connect with.
A huge part of the novel and the thread which is weaved throughout, is Ashley and her journey / coming of age story. The Ashley we meet at the beginning of the novel and where we leave her at the end is so different but has gained so much more perspective and understanding of herself and it was so satisfying to read. While I think many readers will root for Ashley and want her to succeed, which I certainly did, I appreciate that the author also portrayed her struggles, that she was made mistakes and stumbled a few times. I feel like this is especially true when it comes to her relationship choices and a rumour she unwittingly spreads, not realising the full consequences of her actions and how she navigates this all was a necessary part of her journey. Ashley comes out of it all empowered and more sure of herself, and more aware.
I thought the way family relationships were approached in the novel was also so well done. While Ashley’s parents have done their best to shelter Ashley and her sister Jo by making the choice to live in a more affluent neighbourhood, attend a prestigious school and focus on their future rather than revisit the traumas of their pasts, through the course of the book we see them both acknowledge that they can’t protect their daughters from everything, despite their well meaning attempts to do so. The fraught relationships between Jo and her parents for instance is so important, how she deals with her depression, her choice to move out and marry someone they don’t necessarily approve of, all adds to the complexity. I thought the examination of how a class divide can exist within one family was also important and interesting.
Overall, The Black Kids is a book I will be recommending to everyone, due to it’s accurate, emotionally charged narrative about race and power as well as a touching coming of age story. I really hope that this gets all the hype and acclaim that it deserves because it truly is a gem.
Until next time,