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The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed - Review

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Where did I get it? Netgalley, after I had seen it recommended on Twitter and had requested it. Many thanks to Simon & Schuster Children's for letting me read and review this book. I was given an electronic copy of this book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for this post, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

What's it about? The book is set in 1992. Ashley is seventeen, in her final few weeks of high school, and lives in LA with her parents. Her older sister Jo has recently left the family home and got married. Ashley and her family are black. Ashley does however live a privileged life. She goes to a fancy school, lives in a nice neighbourhood, and her parents are both white collar professionals. She is friends with white girls who say things like she is not "blackity-black" to her. To be honest, they are all kind of bitches. Ashley is kind of a bitch too, but I liked her and wanted her to succeed. 

There are black kids at Ashley's school and she kind of thinks of them as different to herself. In her mind, she calls them "the black kids". Then the LA riots start. The police officers who attacked Rodney King are not convicted and people took to the streets in protest. This is a real thing that happened and the LA riots did indeed last for nearly a week. It was very similar to what is happening now after the death of George Floyd and many others at the hands of police officers. 

Ashley is unaffected by much of the rioting, given the predominantly white neighbourhood she lives in. However, her sister is determined to go out and make her voice heard. Ashley and her mother visit Jo, but tensions are running high within the family. Ashley also has a live in nanny, Lucia, who is from Guatemala, and who is thinking of going back now that Ashley is nearly off to college. Ashley wants to go to Stanford, but has been waitlisted. Her friends are totally bitchy about that too, though. 

Then at school the week of prom, Ashley starts a thoughtless rumour about LaShawn and his new Air Jordans. This results in his suspension. LaShawn is the school's star basketball player and is also on a scholarship. Ashley's dad's family store is in an area where there is rioting, so her dad is trying to deal with his brother and Ashley's cousin, Morgan. A girl called Lana starts to talk to Ashley and Ash decides to go back to hers instead of with her friends. 

Then it turns out that Ashley did something really bad to Kimberley. Everyone goes to prom - which was one of my favourite parts - and Ashley ends up learning a lot of things about herself and her family and her community. The book has a really fast, punchy pace to it which I thought was great given the backdrop of the riots. 

Even though it's set nearly thirty years ago, it really doesn't feel like that. The only thing I found jarring in that respect was the fact that Ashley didn't have a mobile phone, and had to talk to her friends on a corded phone! Sadly we haven't come far enough in that time as the issues within the book about racism and police brutatility are still all too common. I thought that the way this was shown was done really well. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Not really. 

Are any main characters people of colour? Obviously. I liked how Ashley got across that she was black but more privileged than some other black people, and how her life was impacted by that in both ways. There's a lot of good discussion around race in LA at the time. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? There's some discussion of mental illness and suicide, so trigger warning. Jo seems to have some kind of mental illness which is undiagnosed. I really liked her, I was on her side! 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? I think weed. There's an good bit with a cop where Ashley mentions it would be worse for her to get caught with weed than for her white friends. 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, and some violence. It is a little graphic, in line with what you would expect with the subject matter. 

Are there swear words? Not many, if any. 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none. There were a couple of issues with the proof copy, where a couple of paragraphs ended abruptly or got cut off, but that was only due to the proof I'm sure. It's a really good book. I liked Ashley and I can't wait to read something else by the same author. 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I have seen buzz about it on Twitter and also thought it was appropriate given the current Black Lives Matter protests. 

What do I think of the cover? Oh it's GORGEOUS! It is so engaging and pretty. I would definitely pick up this book in a bookshop, wouldn't you? 

What other books is it like? It will be compared to The Hate U Give, I am sure, and sure, I get that, there are similar aspects and it deserves the comparison as they're both so good. I am also sure that I've read a book where four girls are friends and spend a lot of time hanging around each other's houses and pools, and Ashley's friendships at the beginning reminded me of that, but now I can't remember what that book was. Let me know if you have any idea what I'm talking about! 

How many stars? Nine out of ten. It's really good. 

The Black Kids will by published on the 4th of August 2020

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