STARRED REVIEW
September 2020

The Black Kids

By Christina Hammonds Reed
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Christina Hammonds Reed’s debut novel, The Black Kids, is set in 1992 but has a timeliness that often feels uncanny.

Ashley is a privileged Black teenager living the good life in Los Angeles. Her parents have tried to shield her from the reality of life as a Black person in America by enrolling her in the best schools, living in the best neighborhood and giving her the kinds of opportunities that are typically out of reach to the Black scholarship students at her private school. However, her all-white friend group constantly reminds her of her Blackness. 

When four police officers are acquitted in a trial for the beating of a Black man named Rodney King, prompting riots in Ashley’s home city, she begins to realize that in order to find her place in the world, she may need to confront her Blackness and her family’s history—even if it means leaving her old life and friends behind.

Reed addresses experiences common to Black teens in both 1992 and 2020 with grace and nuance. Her sentences are searingly beautiful, and her depiction of the breakdown in Ashley’s belief that her privileged lifestyle affords her a certain degree of protection is raw and relatable. Ashley must face what it means to be considered a so-called “good Black person” and grapple with her own culpability in having made another Black student at her school the target of judgment.

The Black Kids also explores what it means to be a good friend and how we must take responsibility when we treat others poorly, even when we haven’t intended to cause harm. The question of whether anyone can truly be deemed a “bad” person, as opposed to a good person who has done bad things, is threaded expertly through the narrative and is sure to prompt hard but necessary self-reflection from readers. This is a striking debut that fearlessly contributes to ongoing discussions of race, justice and power.

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The Black Kids

The Black Kids

By Christina Hammonds Reed
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781534462724

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