[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Christina Hammonds Reed and ask her 5(ish) questions. Christina’s novel The Black Kids is out now!]
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Christina: The 1992 LA riots are one of the first major times in which we have police brutality against an individual captured by a civilian and then broadcast locally, nationally and even internationally. They felt like a really powerful way to use the past to hold a mirror up to our present. It’s this huge moment of racial and socioeconomic reckoning in my city and I really wanted to explore that as the backdrop to a teenage girl’s coming-of-age story. In many ways, Ashley’s experiencing a parallel awakening/reckoning as she self-examines and questions everyone around her, where she fits into things, and what she believes.
What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?
I think I was definitely more Jo than Ashley when I was younger. Jo’s smart and passionate and her heart is in the right place, but she’s a little lost and self-destructive, which I was for a time in my twenties. But a lot of Ashley’s feelings on not knowing how to articulate her emotions, why things bother her, how to stand up to her friends’ microaggressions, and her journey of finding her voice and coming to celebrate her Blackness are things I deeply identify with and struggled with.
Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?
I think novels are one way in which we can grapple with the issues of what it means to human in a meaningful way via art. They allow us to experience the lives of other people which can be empowering, but also quite cathartic. Especially right now, when the world around us can feel chaotic, deeply unfair and out of control, novels can be a way to try to understand others and our own complex emotions around issues of social justice and identity.
Please describe the content of your latest read and what can readers expect from it.
The Black Kids is a coming-of-age story about a privileged Black teenager, Ashley Bennett, who starts to question everything and everyone she’s known against the backdrop of the 1992 L.A. Riots. I’ve been recently describing it as, what if Dionne from Clueless were the main character instead of the token best friend, and what if she were on her own journey in a moment of a huge upheaval as it regards to Blackness and unequal policing. Ashley’s a little selfish, a little lost, unsure of herself and kind of a brat to put it mildly, but the book is really about her figuring out how to be a better sister, a better friend, a better person, and really finding the beauty and power in her own Blackness even in the face of intergenerational trauma.
What’s next for you in the bookish world?
I’m currently working on an adult novel that looks at a family of aspiring singers, kind of similar to The Jackson Five. I want to look at what it has meant to be a Black performer historically, the burdens of performing while Black, and that particular pursuit of The American Dream. I also just really love exploring family dynamics in complicated situations. When you have a parent pushing hard for a dream that may or may not be yours, compounded by race, brotherhood and sibling rivalry, I think it’s all good material to play with.
Who is your current favorite writer? Why?
This is a really hard question because I feel like we have an embarrassment of riches in both the YA and adult fiction worlds right now. But if I had to select only one, the first person who popped into my head is Jesmyn Ward. Every time I read something by her, both fiction and non-fiction, I’m gutted in the best possible way and challenged to be a better writer.
Any writing advice for aspiring writers?
My advice for aspiring writers would be to imbibe as much as you can, as many stories as you can. There are so many stories across different media, whether it’s film, song, dance, or visual art. They all can offer insight into how to be a better storyteller and how to communicate something about the human condition through art. Also, don’t wait for permission from anybody else to feel like you’re good enough, smart enough, qualified enough, whatever enough to write, just be confident that you have something worthwhile to say and something worth contributing to the world.