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?
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This book would have been brilliant and hard hitting at any time. But reading it now, so soon after George Floyd’s death and with Black Lives Matter being so prominent in the media, I really felt this book. It bought to the forefront of my mind the struggles that Black people have faced and still face. This book is set in 1992, but it didn’t feel very far from home at all. Aside from a few pop culture references (which I loved!), the experiences Ashley faces feel like they could happen, and are still happening today, almost 30 years on.
Ashley lives a charmed life, attending a private school and being somewhat sheltered and surrounded by white friends, openly not interacting much with her fellow Black classmates. Her sister, Jo, who has married and moved out, is far from this. When the Rodney King riots occur, Ashley is forced to open her eyes to what is going on around her, especially when her sister starts getting involved.
This book is shocking, giving a first hand of experience of a wealthy family who are still deeply shook by the riots. Their stories shook me to the core. The discussions of race and class were superb and brilliantly written, as it feels like Ashley is only just realising herself what is truly happening around her. The starkness of this book is impressive, comparing an early event of Ashley and her white friends being stopped for breaking and entering, to a later event of Ashley and her Black friend being held at gunpoint because they are believed to be breaking and entering their own house. The Black Kids has grown on reflection to be even more hard hitting than you initially realise, as you are seeing it through the eyes of a teenager learning and growing.
The relationships were beautiful and important. I loved reading about the difficult relationships between Ashley, her family and her sister, Jo. The different characters all added layers to the story themselves, especially Ashley’s friendship group and the people she finds throughout the story, including the other Black kids at her school.
The only part of this book that really disappointed me was that it just didn’t grab me enough at the start. I spent the first 50 percent of the book feeling like I was wading through water, slow and muggy. On reflection, I realise this is due to the fact Ashley herself felt like she was perhaps disentangled from what was going on around her, and is a stark contrast to the second half of the book, when everything is almost turned up in sharpness. It took me 3 days to read the first 50 percent, and only one to read the rest. I just wish it had grabbed me more from the start!
This intense and hard hitting read feels relevant even today, discussing themes such as police brutality and race and class divide through the eyes of a young, coming-of-age teen. It is a stark, raw and beautiful story of growth and change, a change I can only hope continues as we look forward to a brighter future.
4 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽