THE BLACK KIDS
BY CHRISTINA HAMMONDS REED
Mocha Girls Read sponsored Book of the Month
A New York Times bestseller
A William C. Morris Award Finalist
“Should be required reading in every classroom.” —Nic Stone, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin
“A true love letter to Los Angeles.” —Brandy Colbert, award-winning author of Little & Lion
“A brilliantly poetic take on one of the most defining moments in Black American history.” —Tiffany D. Jackson, author of Grown and Monday’s Not Coming
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?
* ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults – Top Ten
* ALA/William C. Morris Award Finalist
* Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Top Pick
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On the news, they keep playing the video. The cops are striking the Black man with their boots and batons across the soft of his body and the hard of his skull, until I guess they felt like they’d truly broken him,
and, sure enough, they had. Four of the cops who beat him are on trial right now, a trial that some say is a battle for the very soul of the city, or even the country itself. It’s something I should give a shit about, but I don’t—not now.
Right now, birds chirp, palm trees sway, and it’s the kinda Friday where the city seems intent on being a postcard of itself. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch are on the radio singing “Good Vibrations,” and it’s no Beach Boys, but it’ll do. Heather and I do the running man and hump the air to the beat; this even though she’s told us, in no uncertain terms, that this song is lame, and the rest of us have terrible taste in music. We’re several weeks away from being done with high school, and when I think about it too hard, it terrifies me. So right now I’m trying really hard not to care about anything at all.
After we exhaust ourselves, Heather and I collapse on the old pool chairs with their broken slats. The plastic creates geometry on my skin. Heather is pudgy and sometimes doesn’t shave her pits. I can see the dark of her hair in patches in the center of her pasty outstretched arms. How she manages to stay that pale given how long and how often we bake ourselves, I don’t know. It’s a spectacular feat of whiteness. Her lime-green toenail polish is chipped so that each nail vaguely resembles a state in the Midwest. Courtney’s pool vaguely resembles a kidney.
Across from us, Kimberly and Courtney stretch their bodies out across two fat plastic donuts that are pink and tacky and rainbow sprinkled. They float into each other’s orbits and back out again. Every so often they splash water at each other and shriek, “Omigod, stop it!”
Heather yells, “Jesus, get a room already.”
Courtney laughs and squeezes Kimberly’s boob like it’s a horn. They’ve ditched class two times a week for the last month. I don’t ditch nearly as often as my friends do. But my parents and I are supposed to meet my crazy sister’s new husband tonight, and it’s gonna be a doozy of an evening, so it kinda felt like I owed it to my sanity to not be at school today.
These are the places we go—the mall, somebody’s pool, or our favorite, the beach. Our parents hate Venice because it’s dirty and there are too many homeless people, tourists, and boom boxes blasting, which means we love it. We flop across our boogie boards and stare into the horizon. Occasionally, a wave comes and we’ll half-heartedly ride it into the sand, our knees scraping against the grain.
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ABOUT CHRISTINA HAMMONDS REED
Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. A native of the Los Angeles area, her work has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review and One Teen Story. Her first novel, The Black Kids, was a New York Times bestseller and William C. Morris Award Finalist.