Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.
I bought this book when it first came out and I didn’t read it until now. There was an incredible amount of hype behind it – and rightly so – but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. A lot was going on in my personal life, but I knew I wanted to read it eventually.
And boy, am I finally glad I did. I started to read it at the height of the protests this past June, and I wanted to take it slow, so it wasn’t until almost a full month later that I started reading and couldn’t put it down. It’s such a fast, impactful read.
I’m just going to say it now: I really loved this book. It filled me with anger, sadness, relief, happiness, love, hope, disgust; pretty much a whole range of emotions. Let’s talk about my thoughts on the story itself:
First of all, the family aspect in this book is AMAZING! I never get to read a lot about family dynamics in any books I read, regardless if they’re YA, adult, middle grade, whatever. So being able to see such a strongly rooted family was so refreshing. I loved not just the relationship Starr has with her parents and siblings, but also her uncle and how he’s very much like a second father to her.
Of course, with this greatly tight-knit family comes the opposite for many of the other characters in Starr’s world, like her half-brother Seven’s mom and stepfather, or Khalil’s mom. There’s many sides to the dice, and I appreciated getting even just a glimpse into some of the other relationships some of the other characters had.
I felt sadness for Starr, not just because of what happened to Khalil right in front of her eyes (which is obviously tragic and horrible and no one should ever have to witness that), but also that she felt such a need to separate who she was depending on where she was: if she was in Garden Heights, she was one person; if she was at her school at Williamson, she was a completely different person, a held back version of herself. As the book goes through many ups and downs, Starr has many realizations about herself and the world and people around her, including one of her “friends.” I’m glad that she figures it out, to some degree, by the end as to who she is and where she fits in with all of it.
Reading about the gangs in the book kind of put in to perspective just how much gangs can be like a family to people, as well as how hard it can be to leave if you no longer want to be part of them. It can be scary, for sure, but it was also cool to see rival gangs come together for a similar purpose.
I felt that the whole journey that Starr took to reevaluate her stance on everything – her friend groups, her family, her race, everything – was handled really well and felt very real. I could see her struggle with it, especially when it came to opening up and being more vulnerable with her white boyfriend, Chris. I could see her struggle and how she really handled it with a lot of consideration and care for herself.
Of course, some of the hardest parts to read were her recounting the murder of her best friend. I almost cried at the very end of a chapter where she was recounting it in front of people and just her last sentence felt so impactful, so raw, so real, that I almost started to ball my eyes out because… wow. I’ll most likely never have to experience or think something like that ever in my life, and how she had to think that at 16? It hurts.
And how she had to call out one of her friends for having said several racist things over the years, and the white girl never admitted to it and would always play the victim. It was frustrating and I wanted to slap her, but I was also glad to see that there was also Chris, Starr’s boyfriend, who wanted to prove that he loves her for her, nothing else. It was nice to see.
Overall, this whole story is incredible. I’m not doing it justice by talking about it here (other than the fact that I’m rusty at these book reviews lol), but I can understand the hype, and I highly recommend you read this book – especially if you’re white – just to get a glimpse into the world Black people experience every day.
Also remember: Black Lives Matter, all day, every day.