The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed features a Black teen girl living in the wealthier outskirts of Los Angeles during the 1992 uprising, but the historical event’s impact falls between the cracks as the main character stays on the sidelines.
Ashley is a well-to-do Black girl living in the hills in an all-White neighborhood where even her own neighbors sit outside on the lawn as a pretend patrol. Ashley’s older sister Jo is considered rebellious and moves away to live in the Crenshaw and Koreatown area of the city, which eventually become hotspots during the unrest. Also, Lucia, Ashley’s nanny, is planning to move back to her native Guatemala with her family. And Ashley’s parents are off focused on their demanding careers. Then on April 29, 1992, the Rodney King verdict comes down. The unarmed Black man beaten by four LAPD officers the year prior doesn’t see justice as those officers are acquitted. Hours later, the city of LA is afire, dredging up a level of racial tension unseen in a generation. But Ashley still wants to fit in with her White friends at her White private school. She starts a rumor about Black male classmate with a promising basketball future being criminally involved in the uprising. Then all of a sudden she recognizes the microaggressions she had been dealing with for years from her White girlfriends. As she questions what’s happening to the city, her uncle drops off his daughter at Ashley’s home to stay focused on saving the family’s vacuum store threatened by the fires. How the uprising is affecting her family leads to even more revelations. She’s starting to see how race impacts her life. The tension pressurizes for days until it explodes at prom where Ashley experiences the ultimate betrayal from her so-called friends and realizes which friendships need to be killed and which ones need to be nurtured.
Ashley’s life and surroundings seem relatable today though it’s a story taking place almost 30 years ago. The author does a great job with framing the time element to make teen readers feel closer to the story.
The writing is flowery but gets convoluted with throwing the actual events of 1992 on the shelf in favor of character backstory every few pages. The amount of flashbacks bury the current moment. Though the flashbacks are interesting and intimate, they clog up the story development as it moves at a slow pace. With Ashley as the main character, she is also living the uprising precariously through other characters who seem to be more in the action or more affected like her sister Jo and her cousin Morgan. Showing the story from the characters who are in the heat of the uprising would’ve been more interesting. Ashley tends to be too aware where her voice comes off more adultish as she quickly picks up on the deep meaning of what’s going on around her. It’s noticeable via the audiobook where actress Kiersey Clemons gives the story a gloomy feel.
Overall, the synopsis feels a bit misleading with the focus on the 1992 LA uprising since the main character is physically removed from the situation therefore trying too hard emotionally to be involved with it. The more exciting story would be around the characters in the middle of the uprising. It’s a novel where you would want another character’s perspective or have the perspectives change every chapter.