Hello hello and welcome back to my blog. Yes it’s been long overdue since I’ve posted but I have a great reason to post today and I’m happy to share it with you! Today is my day to host the book tour for The Black Kids. I was so excited to receive and read this book because not only is it own voices but it recounts a moment from our history that parallels with some of the things we are dealing with today! In addition to sharing with you guys what I think about the book I also got the chance to pick the mind of the author herself, Christina Hammonds Reed! I’m excited to share these answers with you as these aren’t your typical questions that you would normally ask an author but something that allows us to dig a little deeper into the mind of Christina.
I just wanted to give a special shoutout to Simon Teen and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for gifting me with a copy of this book and allowing me to be a part fo the book tour! I love that the reading community has been actively trying to get more ARCs into the hands of readers that can relate to the characters in the story and the authors themselves (I will include the links for their instagram pages down at the bottom of this post).
So first things first! Let’s dive into what the book is about! I will include a little information about the book and where you can go ahead and get your own copy and then I’ll give you some of my thoughts on the book!
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Genre: Young Adult 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?
What did Briana think of The Black Kids?
Let me start by saying I LOVED THIS BOOK. This book does an amazing job of intertwining the themes of girlhood, racism, class, and blackness all into one. It also depicts the teen experience so accurately in my opinion. I often read YA books that, in my opinion, makes the teens within the story seem a lot younger than they are. Not to say this means that no one’s experience is like that but I’ve rarely found a book that more closely aligns with my own teen years than The Black Kids. Even though this book is about teens from the 90s I felt like some of the experiences that Ashley shares about her life could have been taken directly from my own past. The Black Kids is a book that is desperately needed for the times we are dealing with right now. It sheds light on the fact that we are still face with the same experiences that keep repeating themselves and whether we realize it or not our Black youth is being dramatically affected by these events no matter how indirect it may seem. For Ashley it was Rodney King in 1992, for me it was Trayvon Martin in 2012, and for teens today its George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and an endless list of names that continue to pop up. If you haven’t read this book already please do. And if you have read it please recommend it to everyone you know. This book is an essential read for teens and adults alike and Christina Hammonds Reed is next in line to join Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, Elizabeth Acevedo, and many other amazing writers that are making statements and fighting the war on discrimination and racism with their words.
A Look Inside the Mind of Christina Hammonds Reed
- When you started working on the plot for The Black Kids did you imagine it would be published during a time where events in the country would parallel the events that took place back in 1992 with the Rodney King trial?
As many people know, the Rodney King beatings are one of the first times we see police brutality enacted on an individual captured by a civilian and then broadcast on air locally, nationally and eventually internationally. The camcorder involved was so bulky and almost laughable looking back at it, but that technology really allowed everyone else to see what Black people had known to be true for generations, which was that we are unequally policed and dehumanized in our encounters with said police. That we find ourselves nearly 30 years later still struggling with the same issues is not surprising, though it is frustrating. The internet and cellphones have allowed more and more of these encounters to make their ways into people’s homes and lives, and I think what we’re seeing now is a direct result of younger Black people who are coming of age in a post-Trayvon/BLM era being fed up with all of these images of Black trauma at the hands of police, as well as non-Black people starting to more meaningfully question how to dismantle these systems of oppression and how they can more meaningfully break the cycles that they may have historically benefited from.
- How important do you think it is that teenagers and young adults read stories such as The Black Kids while we are still fighting the same racial inequality and injustice issues?
Personally, as a writer, I never want to tell anybody how to feel about anything. One of the things I aim to do is to question and to really look at the gray areas of humanity. The Black Kids is all about questioning everything and everyone you’ve known, where your place is within the world around you, and how you can not only impact change in your community/world, but also how you can challenge and change yourself so that you’re a better advocate, a better sister, a better friend, etc. I think so much of how The Black Kids relates to our current moment is also in being able to acknowledge that we aren’t all perfect and that it’s not who you were, but who you’re in the process of becoming. Some people may feel like “I don’t know where to begin, I don’t know how to feel, I don’t know how to make sense of it all.” And I hope this book helps them feel seen in some way, helps them wrap around their heads around how our history shapes our present, but also empowers them to feel like the journey towards progress is just as important and meaningful as the destination.
- What initially inspired you to get into writing? How did that develop into wanting to write novels that highlight the experience of being young and Black in America?
I always wanted to write. I was that kid who would turn in super long story assignments when the teacher just wanted a five-pager. I would write in my notebook until all hours just making up stories based on what I’d read or watched, or experienced that day. I was lucky to have parents who were very proactive in our education and who made sure we always had any books we wanted and programs that served our interests. They even enrolled me in something called the Cal State Young Writers Program which was a summer camp in which little kids got to develop a short story over the course of two or three weeks and then it was “published” into a little anthology that we got to take home when camp was done. In college, I majored in Creative Writing and Political Science, and I think The Black Kids really stems from a merger of both of those interests at a pivotal time in my development as a person. While engaging in questions of race and government and class and identity, I was also developing and honing my voice as a writer. I went to film school for my MFA in Film Production because I love storytelling in that medium as well, and for a time I think I felt like in order to “make it” in the industry I had to flatten myself, or tell broader stories, stories that were more palatable to white America, and as a result I was kind of miserable. It wasn’t until I took a step back and decided to just pour myself into writing The Black Kids that I realized just how important is was to me as a person, both mentally and creatively, to tell stories that reflected and engaged in a meaningful way with reality as I know it.
- Who do you think would benefit most from reading The Black Kids?
Everyone. But seriously, I think it’s a story that is at its heart a coming-of-age story, and for those of us who are adults, we can absolutely relate to the struggles of figuring out who we want to be, what kind of friends to have, how to engage with our parents and siblings and just feeling wholly misunderstood or invisible, but eventually coming out of the other side stronger for it. For younger people, I hope it helps them navigate some of the messiness of growing up in a tumultuous era, and what it means to question themselves and their friend groups and the government’s role in systemic and institutional racism and how they can be part of impacting change on both micro and macro levels.
- Is there anything you would like for your readers to know about the characters in the book or the story that may not have made it into the actual book itself?
Ashley may not always come across as the best person, and that’s very intentional because I want to explore her growth and the fact that sometimes personal growth is incremental but no less meaningful. In the book she might come across as a bit fatphobic, and that’s because in my initial envisioning of her, she had disordered eating and her comments about weight were reflective of her internal struggles with self-worth. Ultimately, it felt like I wasn’t doing enough justice to that storyline. But as somebody who has herself struggled with disordered eating, I wanted to examine how society treats Black women and Black women’s bodies (especially in the 90s) and how existing as a Black woman can be so emotionally fraught when it comes to body image. It was another way in which I wanted to engage on issues of Black mental health and Black female vulnerability as it relates to the overall struggle, as well as to connect Ashley’s mental health struggles with those of Jo’s and her Grandma Opal’s in the book.
And For Some Extra Fun: The Black Kids Original Book Tag
So I decided to create a tag based on some quotes that stood out to me in the book. I have five prompts which I’ll list the questions below but I will be posting a video of my own answers to my youtube channel which you can find here. A lot of these quotes come from the beginning of the book because so many of them just stuck with me and immediately made me think of the book tags you’ll see below.
Alright so straight to the questions:
“You live here?” I heard him say to my father when he opened the door.
“Yes,” my father said.
“You’re the owner?” he said.
“I do believe that’s what the deed says,” my father said.
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover: Name a book that you judged by the cover but after reading made you realize your first impressions of it were wrong. (P.S. this should be a book you bought [or didn’t buy] based solely on the cover, not the blurb or description of the book)
It’s something I should give a shit about, but I don’t-not now.
What’s with all the hype?: Name a book that was extremely hyped up within the book community that you didn’t enjoy or didn’t even want to read.
“It’s cool. I get what she means,” I said. I’m always saying things are cool when maybe they aren’t.
A problematic favorite: Name a book that has been seen as problematic but you can’t help but love it (no shame here, we’ve all loved a book that someone else has found problematic. No need to sugar coat it. As long as we acknowledge and understand why it’s problematic doesn’t mean you have to feel shame for enjoying the book) (PS if this prompt makes you uncomfortable go ahead and skip it.)
“…You have to be better than those white kids around you. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.”
An underrate book by a BIPOC: Name a book that you read by a Black author or another Person of Color that you don’t believe received the attention it deserved because it was written by someone from a more marginalized group.
“You gotta adapt with the times…”
New Age, Same BS: Name a book that was written over 30 years ago (or the story took place over 30 years ago) but the content is still relevant to things that we are facing today
Thanks so much for reading! I really encourage everyone to pick this book up. And don’t forget to follow Christina, Simon Teens, and Hear Our Voices Book Tour on instagram. You definitely don’t want to miss on some amazing content.
P.S. I look forward to seeing your book tags. Don’t fret if you don’t have a Youtube channel, post them on your blog or even your Instagram account and don’t forget to tag me.