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The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

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Buy The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Holly Lewtas
Reviewed by Holly Lewtas
Summary: This debut novel is an eye-opening and powerful read. With a focus on racism, it could not have come at a more important time, demonstrating the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the consequences that one's words can have.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: August 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
ISBN: 978-1471188190

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Christina Hammonds Reed's debut novel is set against the backdrop of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a reaction to the absolution of four police officers for beating a black man, Rodney King, nearly to death. Told from the perspective of Ashley Bennett, the novel follows her evolution from a silent bystander when confronted with matters of race, to a woman finding her voice and embracing her heritage.

The Black Kids is narrated by a teenage black girl who has grown up in a privileged area in LA, attending a private school and, through the efforts of her parents, has been shielded from the inequalities that face so many of the black community. Surrounded by white friends, Ashley is passive when it comes to their racist remarks and views herself as separate to the rest of her black classmates. However, as the novel develops, Ashley becomes witness to the severe impact of systemic racism and is faced with the decision of where she stands in relation to the us versus them, white versus black paradigm. Up until this novel, I had not yet read a book narrated by a black person which details their growing awareness of racism and its consequences. This is perhaps due to my own choice of books, but also may be due to the wealth of literature that exists focusing on the same evolution from the perspective of a white person. The choice of narrator is a credit to the novel as it demonstrates how everyone has a role to play to help society eradicate racism, irrespective of their race, highlighting how all voices matter.

Despite the main character being a work of fiction, the novel depicts the progression of the 1992 LA riots, split into three sections - 'Before', 'During' and 'After' - in respect to the riots. By basing the novel within a historical event, a new level of emotion is added to the story as readers are updated on the impact of the riots, such as detailing the different neighbourhoods affected in LA, the looting which occurred and the many deaths. It is heart-breaking to know that this novel, and the different events the main character is faced with, were a reality in 1992 and that the racism experienced was a common occurrence for many.

My sole criticism of the novel is that there are shifts from the past and present within chapters, making it difficult to follow the events occurring, leading to the need for regular rereads of passages. Whilst these switches in time are crucial to the plot, they could have been more clear and fluid in their transitions, in order to aid the readability.

Overall, the novel deals with topics ranging from police brutality to sexism, casual racism to systemic racism, mental health to child abuse. Although this may seem overwhelming, Hammonds Reed has curated the novel in such a way that each topic is important to the plot, without being excessive. Throughout the novel, connections can be drawn between the violence towards Rodney King and the recent death of George Floyd, the subsequent riots and movements, as well as the reaction of authorities. This demonstrates the harsh reality that the world has not changed much in the past few decades. However, novels such as The Black Kids provide an insight into how people's attitudes and prejudices can negatively impact others and encourages readers to look within at their own actions and ideals. Combined with the extensive list of themes the novel deals with, I strongly urge everyone, irrespective of age, to read this novel and to have open discussions with their families and friends.

Another YA novel I would recommend which deals with similar topics, like police brutality and racism, from a young person's perspective is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. You might also enjoy A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe. You might also appreciate All The Rage by Courtney Summers.


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