by A.M. Larks
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed is a poignant novel about the tribulations of growing up and how quickly world events can thrust you into adulthood. The novel centers around Ashley, a seventeen-year-old black girl, living in a mostly white community in outskirts of Los Angeles, at the height of the Rodney King beating, trial, and verdict.
Broken into three sections, the structure not only helps to orient the reader in time, e.g. “Before”, “During”, “After”, but this division also sets up a metaphor in itself. The reader, mirroring the shift in society, has a “before”, “during”, and “after” the Rodney King riots. In the before, we, like Ashley, and like many Angelenos, hope for a fair and just verdict. In the during, we hope only to survive, to not get swept up in the fray of the upheaval and taken down as Rodney was. In the after, we are forever changed.
It is this perspective that makes The Black Kids such a heartbreakingly necessary novel. Portraying one version of what it was like to be black in Los Angeles during the Rodney King verdict. To be black in a mostly white community and hear what everyone thinks about white police officers beating a black man senseless. To be black and young and supposedly hopeful for society when your neighbors are sitting on their lawns with shotguns and black people are shot in the street. To worry about prom when the city is burning.
A by-product of Reed’s beautiful novel and depth of relatable characters is for the reader to be changed for the better through Ashley’s journey to adulthood, which is achieved through the events and through her examination of her own privilege and addressing her mistakes. And like Ashley, the reader comes to the conclusion that these uprisings may be justified “Because maybe the problem isn’t only with ‘bad’ people; maybe the problem is with the whole system.” And in the wake of all that has happened since, there is no defense to that allegation. Society is guilty.
A.M. Larks’s writing has appeared in NiftyLit, Scoundrel Time, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Five on the Fifth, Charge Magazine, and the ZYZZYVA and Ploughshares blogs. She has served as a judge for the Loud Karma Productions’ Emerging Female and Nonbinary Playwriting Award and has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, CA. She is the managing editor and blog editor at Kelp Journal. She is the former fiction editor at Please See Me, the former blog editor at The Coachella Review, as well as the former photography editor at Kelp Journal. A.M. Larks earned an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside at Palm Desert, a JD, and a BA in English literature.