Hi everyone! Today is the day that I host a book tour stop for The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed for Hear Our Voices Book Tours. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, so I definitely jumped on the opportunity to read this early and help promote its release.
Along with a review, I’m excited to also share my thoughts from an #ownvoices perspective as a well as a reading playlist of songs that came to mind during my reading.
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?
Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Her short fiction has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review. She lives in Hermosa Beach, CA.
*Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes included may change in final publication.*
From the moment I saw this cover in connection to historical fiction set in 1992 I knew this was something I not only wanted to read, but HAD to read. I’m always slightly hesitant when it comes to reading titles based on familiar events that feel close to home as someone that absorbs book as a means to escape the world, but I make exceptions when something feels too important to pass up. The Black Kids was definitely one of those cases. I had already formed a connection based on the little information I knew that I owed it to myself to see this through to the end – no matter how triggering I thought it could get.
This was a very relevant story that I wish was solely a matter of fiction and not something that continues to go on even to this day. I was only 4 at the time of the Rodney King riots, but his is usually the first name that comes to mind when I think of police brutality outside of the more recent occurrences that continue to grow. It both saddened and angered me that all it would take was a switch of the names and locations and this could have easily been another current event or trending topic on social media. For example, I had to fight with my brain to not substitute Rodney King for George Floyd or Latasha Harlins for Breonna Taylor (SIDE NOTE: It’s still mind-boggling to me that her killers are still freely roaming the streets – fix that NOW!! 😡) So much of the characters’ actions and emotions brought to mind events that have taken place just within the last few months that I had to keep reminding myself of the time period. This is where it was the most enkindling for me, as I connected with so much of the raw emotion on the page.
I really appreciated the storytelling vibe with this one. It felt a tad slow at first, but it was nice to live with the characters for a bit and learn their dynamic before the action eased in. The overall tone came across as if recounting a story with an old friend, which made it that much more personal for me. I could definitely sense and connect to Ashley’s struggles in the beginning as the only Black girl in her inner circle, in both realizing that life moves differently for her in comparison to her friends and fighting to speak up while also thinking she has to be mindful of the opinions and feelings of those around her. She has her questionable actions, but that made her moves towards growth in the second half that much better. I always love experiencing a character’s journey into discovering themselves, and though she might still be finding her footing, I was proud of who Ashley was becoming by the story’s end.
All in all, this was such an important and beautifully written read. Though it ended on a hopeful note, the feeling was bittersweet as I look at the lines I was able to connect while reading and realize that there’s still so much work to be done. As painful as this was to read at times, it’s definitely a conversation that needs to be had – not just for other kids (and adults as well) like Ashley exploring their blackness in connection to the spaces they inhabit, but from a standpoint of understanding for those who have the privilege of walking through the world differently. I look forward to the discussions that take place once this is released and reading more from this author in the future.
The Black Kids speaks to me from two different points: character and experiences.
Much like Ashley, I maneuvered in many predominately white spaces – especially when it came to school. From the moment I started AIG programs in elementary school, decisions were made to ensure that my education took precedence and that I achieved certain milestones that were considered firsts for my immediate family. This led to me spending middle and high school at classical schools in uniform where I was usually one of the few Black kids in my honors and AP classes (if not the only one, to be completely honest). In addition to that, I was always, and still am for the most part, the Black girl with her head in a book that gravitated towards the things that weren’t seen as “Black,” therefore always running the risk of not being considered “black enough.” I struggled with this for a while it seems until I finally crossed paths with more people like me and realized that the Black experience isn’t a monolith, though we’re all connected through many shared threads. Because of this, I enjoyed following Ashley’s journey exploring her blackness and finding her circle – it’s nice to know you’re not alone in the world.
I’ve also had my share of wake up calls as to the reality of how someone who looks like me walks around in the world. I remember them all – from the first time I was followed in the store by security without my parents (which gave me extreme anxiety) to more vivid memories of having my family asked to leave the pool at a hotel while on vacation because the only other family area felt uncomfortable with us being in the same space. There have even been moments at work where I’ve had to deal with various degrees of microagressions from customers just based on my appearance. I’m still learning to navigate these spaces and don’t have all the answers when it comes to how to be more comfortable, but it’s my hope that as more discussions are had on the subject that we see a change in the frequency of actions and people learn to treat their neighbors better.
Given the setting of the story, I fully intended on this being full of 90’s music – which I LOVE and constantly revisit over most of what’s released today. However, considering the relevancy to what’s going on in the world (and has been for far too long), it ended up being a mixture of songs that came to mind depending on the mood at a particular part of the story.
Some of the songs reminded me of a character (Janelle Monáe’s Crazy, Classic, Life for Ashley in contrast to Jamila Woods’ Blk Girl Soldier for her sister Jo) while others came to me just based on the vibe of how the story progressed (Andra Day’s City Burns and H.E.R.’s I Can’t Breathe ). I initially wanted to be very specific and put it in chronological order in regards to plot, but ultimately decided to just let it be a collection from my mind as is. It’s crazy how much of the more recently released songs I picked related to the subject matter could actually apply to the time period of this story as well as similar moments in history. There’s so many I went back and forth with but decided to leave them off in the end in fear of this being a million hours long. 🙈
Is The Black Kids on your TBR?
Make sure to check out stops from the rest of the tour here!