The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (9781534462724)
Set in Los Angeles in 1982 during the Rodney King riots, this teen novel deals directly with racism and class. Ashley lives in a wealthy part of LA, attends a private school, and has only white friends who she has known since childhood. They spend lots of time around the pool drinking, flirting and planning their prom. As the protests engulf LA though, race becomes a part of everyone’s focus, something that Ashley has tried to ignore, including all the comments one of her friends keeps making. Ashley finds herself becoming closer with LaShawn, a Black kid at school who is a star athlete and whose home is threatened by the protests. He has gotten into Stanford while Ashley has been placed on the waitlist. Ashley makes a comment about his new shoes to her white friends and suddenly becomes a rumor, leading to LaShawn punching another student and potentially losing his place at Stanford. Ashley must figure out how to make things right and also what side she is on.
Reed takes a historical moment in time that continues to resonate today. Remarkably, this is a debut novel. Written with such assurance and clarity, the book allows Ashley to find her own way, something that is often not clear as she continues to make mistakes based on her friends and her class. Reed keeps from becoming didactic at all, instead giving us the perfect character to learn alongside, to hope realizes what is truly happening, and to empathize with and get really angry at.
This book doesn’t duck away from anything. Reed takes on micro and macroaggressions around race and class. She explores how wealth does not protect Black Americans from being targeted, treated differently in our justice system, or stopped by police at gun point. She shows readers this with such power and straightforward honesty that it is impossible to rationalize it away.
Beautifully written, this historical novel is powerful and gripping. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Simon & Schuster.