The Black Kids

Set in Los Angeles in the year 1992–the year LA erupted into violence after the brutal beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers–this story traces the evolution of senior Ashley Bennett, her friends, and her family as they confront (again, for some of them) the reality of black acceptance by white society. Ashley and her sister Jo have been sheltered from racism as far as possible by their parents, an architect and a financial wunderkind who have risen to the top of their professions. Enrolled in elite, private schools for their entire childhood and youth, their friends are mostly white, their associations with family members are infrequent, and instances of overt racism toward them are rare. Occasional remarks are made to Ashley by the friends she has had since elementary school, such as when one comments that yes, Ashley is black, but she is not “blackity black.” Ashley notices the comments but chooses to let them slide because she and her friends have such a long history together. At school she speaks in passing and is friendly to the small group of other black students but doesn’t associate with them.

In these, the very last weeks of her senior year, things change. Her sister, who has struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, suddenly quits school, marries a white guy whom she loves, and becomes a political activist. Ashley’s application to her dream college is wait-listed and then denied. She betrays her best friend by having sex with her boyfriend and starts a devastating rumor about the star basketball player (who is black and on scholarship) stealing a pair of athletic shoes. The family business run by her uncle is vandalized, and he and his daughter move in with Ashley’s family. And so on. The world shifts for Ashley as she learns that the world is not as welcoming to her or anyone of her race as she once naively (or hopefully) thought.

The author does a fine job portraying youth in all its self-focused ignorance and unawareness being forced to acknowledge the reality that they may be treated unequally, unfairly and often viciously because of their race. Other themes include the distribution and administration of civil justice in a democratic society, the right to protest, the inevitable changing nature of friendships and family relationships, and the difficulty of dealing with mental illness within a family.

Violence, sexual situations and language, offensive language, teenage alcoholism and addiction issues are throughout the book.

Categories: Addiction, Bullying, Civil Rights, Controversial YA Topics, Crime, Depression, Diversity, Domestic Abuse in YA Fiction, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Racism, Social Disorders, Suicide, Violence

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