The Black Kids

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
The Black Kids Book Poster Image
Complex tale of prom drama during Rodney King riots.

Parents say

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Set during the Rodney King episode in Los Angeles, the author artfully connects that incident to the destruction of Tulsa's "Black Wall Street" and the Great Migration. There is also a realistic storyline about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Positive Messages

When times are tough, true friends are gold. To find and keep those friends, be true to yourself.

Positive Role Models

Most of the main adult characters are sensitively written, great role models: each one struggles with tough choices. There are the Black parents who choose to send their children to the best school they can, even though that may mean their children have a harder time socially; the family that protects their children from brutal aspects of their elders' legacy even while keeping that legacy alive; and the White teachers who do their best to be allies, though their efforts are sometimes clumsy; and a White, lesbian principal who listens when told that a student is in crisis, and intervenes immediately.

Violence

The setting, in the wake of the not-guilty verdict for the police officers who beat Rodney King, and backstory about the Tulsa "Black Wall Street" killings bring many scenes of violence, some graphic. These include a Korean boy shot in the chest, mass shootings by law enforcement during the Tulsa incident, lynchings in the Jim Crow South, and beating by both police and civilians. One character nurses an injury suffered during looting of his store. There are also scenes of violence between high school teens, including one boy punching another out and a physical altercation between girls owing to rivalry over a boy.

Sex

There's a prominent subplot about the loss of virginity, several scenes of romantic kissing, and references to "hookups" between teen couples as well as adult couples. Two girls have a brief conversation about the possibility that one is bisexual. There is a passage about jealousy between one character's parents, with the suggestion the father is having an "emotional affair" with a family friend.

Language

Strong language includes "s--t," " f--k," "damn," the "N" word, "nigga," "twat," and "asshole."

Consumerism

Occasional mention of brands happen for scene setting, such as the manufacturers' names for the vacuum cleaner models sold in the family's store, Adidas, and popular song lyrics and products that place the story in the early 1990s or hint at adults' ages and generations. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke cigarettes, drink wine coolers, smoke pot, and take ecstasy casually, with few negative consequences. A teen is arrested for possession of cocaine. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in The Black Kids, by Christina Hammonds Reed, the Rodney King riots and the melodrama of prom combine to bring to a head the contradictions in the life of Ashley, a Black high school senior from a well-to-do family who attends an exclusive, predominantly White private school. The setting, in the wake of the not-guilty verdict for the police officers who beat Rodney King, and backstory about the Tulsa "Black Wall Street" killings bring many scenes of violence, some graphic. These include a Korean boy shot in the chest, mass shootings by law enforcement during the Tulsa incident, lynchings in the Jim Crow South, and beating by both police and civilians. One character nurses an injury suffered during looting of his store. There are also scenes of violence between high school teens, including one boy punching another out and a physical altercation between girls owing to rivalry over a boy. There's a prominent subplot about the loss of virginity, several scenes of romantic kissing, and references to "hookups" between teen couples as well as adult couples. Two girls have a brief conversation about the possibility that one is bisexual. There's a passage about jealousy between one character's parents, with the suggestion the father is having an "emotional affair" with a family friend. Teens smoke cigarettes, drink wine coolers, smoke pot, and take ecstasy casually, with few negative consequences. A teen is arrested for possession of cocaine. Strong  language includes "s--t," " f--k," "damn," the "N" word, "nigga," "twat," and "asshole." 

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written byPisces4456 July 29, 2021

History matters

this book teaches kids of all races about Rodney King time and everyone needs to know history
Teen, 14 years old Written byReads too many books April 4, 2021

It was ok

I thought this book would be great, but there was a bit of inappropriate content and it kind of lost me a bit. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I was expect... Continue reading

What's the story?

When THE BLACK KIDS begins, Ashley, a high school senior in Los Angeles is gearing up for prom against the backdrop of widespread civic unrest in the wake of the acquittal of police officers captured on video severely beating Rodney King, a Black man. Ashley lives in a bubble that this particular crisis can't help but pierce: She's the daughter of well-to-do Black professionals. She's attended a predominately White private school for most her life; most of her friends are White, and many of the people of color come from multicultural backgrounds that distance them from the prevailing racial fray. She is alienated from the new crop of Black kids at her school (most of whom do not come from wealthy families). Her only connection to the mainstream Black community is through a family business operated by her uncle, and that's getting looted -- by other Black people. Her elder sister is married to a blue-collar White man their parents don't approve of, and has dropped out of college. 

Is it any good?

This book successfully tackles a complex subject by juxtaposing a legendary manifestation of racial disharmony with a promising tale of racial progress. In her debut novel, Christian Hammonds Reed has crafted a winner in The Black Kids. The main character, who narrates the story in the first person, has a strong, clear voice and an interior life that wavers from precocious to childish -- like a real teen's. And there are many well-developed characters to love, built with sharp, economical details, like the father's international finance books, the outdoorsy principal's sun-weathered skin, the boy who wears socks to the beach, and the girl who reclaims the nasty nickname other kids have given her by introducing herself with it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the theme of ambition in The Black Kids. How do the teens' ambitions serve or undermine their hopes, dreams, relationships, and happiness?

  • How have your friendships from elementary school held up over time? What's caused some to last and others to end?

  • What historical event has most affected you so far? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of racism and Black history

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