The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed
Ashley doesn't hang out with the other black kids. Her friends are the three white girls she grew up with, and being in the cool, popular clique suits her; after all, her parents have worked hard so that she and her sister can feel a long way from her family's history. She keeps her mouth shut when she encounters casual racism, because what's really important is getting into Stanford and having a date for Prom.
But this is LA in 1992, and that's a difficult time to pretend that being black doesn't matter. When Rodney King's attackers are acquitted, the city explodes into fury and Ashley's shiny life starts to unravel. Her sister Jo takes a dangerous path and Ashley can't follow her; as pressures mount the rules of friendship, loyalty and love start to shift and Ashley finally starts to discover who she really is and whether she's prepared to pay the price for making things right.
This beautifully written and atmospheric book illuminates aspects of American history which were unfamiliar to me. It takes the familiar elements of an American high school novel - mean girls, cliques, boyfriends, prom - and invests them with profoundly resonant and complex themes. It's startlingly relevant, but despite the difficult subject matter it somehow manages to be wise, warm, funny, and inclusive. There are no easy happy endings, but there is certainly hope. This is an exceptional first novel - one which adults will enjoy as much as teens.