Hey y’all! Welcome to the my leg of The Black Kids Book Tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. I finished the last of my Psychology classes last month so I basically have a Psychology degree. I’ll be spending these next two semesters focusing on my English major, so that could probably help with future analyses.
Enough about me, let’s talk about this story.
The Narrative Structure
The Black Kids is split into three parts. There’s the before, during, and after. The direct association between these markers is their relation to the riots. The first section (before) takes place right before the verdict of the Rodney King case. The second portion (during) takes place over the weeks directly following the case and the riots that ensued. The final section (after) takes place after the riots have ended and the national guard has left Los Angeles.
One can also associate these narrative markers as revolving around Ashley’s own development and racial consciousness. In the beginning of the story (before) she knows herself to be Black but doesn’t really acknowledge racism. It isn’t something that she really notices, even when things do have racial implications. In the middle of the story (during) Ashley is grappling with what it means to be Black and how her privilege has served as rose-colored glasses to the injustices surrounding people who look like her. Toward the end of the story (after) Ashley begins to accept how her privilege and affluence cannot completely protect her from discrimination.
There are several images repeated throughout the novel. One major theme is flight and its association to freedom. In the first section of The Black Kids, Ashley associates her sister, Jo, with flight. Jo is constantly seeking escape from not only the world, but her own inner thoughts. Ashley often describes Jo’s movements as flight and begins to long for that sense of flight (or escape) more and more as the story unfolds.
Another repeated image is fire. At the start of the novel, we’re introduced to the California climate and wildfires through one of Ashley’s childhood memories. I want to avoid spoilers so I’ll just say that fire is a complicated image in this novel and it’s ultimately viewed differently by different characters. Jo seems to see the fire as cleansing, even glamorizing the destruction at one point. Ashley see the fire as destructive. It isn’t wholly bad, and it isn’t all good. It’s complicated, much like people.
The Black Kids tackles several issues related to race, womanhood, and growing up. It’s an intersectional story that blends each piece together, showing that you cannot separate one part of our identity from another.
Ashley is a high school senior. She is going through a major transition in her personal life while the world around her changes, too. She’s trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life while also trying to understand her place in the world. She makes mistakes along the way, but she learns from them.
Ashley has three best friends that she’s grown up with, but they aren’t the best influences. As she begins learning more about herself, she starts to realize that time shouldn’t be the only defining factor of keeping a friendship.
At the start of the novel, Ashley assumes a lot of things about the people around her. As the story progresses, Ashley comes to learn that she must check her own bias. She also learns to accept others as they are.
Another major theme of the story is family, with a special emphasis on siblings. Ashley struggles with her relationship with Jo. There’s a direct contrast between Ashley’s relationship with Jo and their parents relationships with their own siblings.
Of course, I can’t end this analysis off without mentioning the theme of revolution. Throughout the story, Ashley is experiencing a psychological revolution. She has to unlearn her previous bias as her eyes are opened to the injustice within her own city. The revolution is shown in both Ashley’s internal conflict and her external experiences.
The Black Kids is a story filled with the nuance of internal and external conflict. It’s incredibly relevant to today’s world and a story that should be added to classroom reading lists nationwide.
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.
The Black Kids
by Christina Hammonds Reed
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 1st, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Contemporary
Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel explores issues of race, class, and violence through the eyes of a wealthy black teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Rodney King Riots.
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?