Starr Carter doesn’t really want to be at the Garden Heights party, but her friend Kenya pressures her into tagging along. Luckily, her old friend Khalil is there to take her mind off of how uncomfortable she is. When shots ring out in the distance (a regular occurence in their low-income community), Khalil and Starr take off in his car. A night of near-misses turns into a nightmare when Khalil and Starr are pulled over by a white cop; Khalil, sensing that Starr is frightened, leans into the car to check on her and is shot, over and over, by the police officer. In the days and weeks that follow, multiple voices ring out with their opinions of Khalil’s death. Some people say that he was a gang-banger and a drug-dealer, but Starr only remembers the little boy who was her best friend. Tensions rise in Starr’s community, but the news of Khalil’s death has little impact on her elite (mostly white) private-school friends. Starr feels torn between two worlds: the world of Garden Heights, where gang violence and poverty is the norm but the people in the community still work together for a better future; and the outside world, where white police officers who shoot unarmed black teens are seen as sympathetic by a biased media.
Starr’s story really begins when she decides to speak out about Khalil’s death and the circumstances surrounding the shooting. She testifies before a grand-jury and gives an interview on television. When her interview airs, Starr and her family face pressure from a local gang-lord for Starr’s “dry-snitching.” As tensions rise at home, Starr worries more and more that her speaking out will result in further violence in her neighborhood. Despite her fears, Starr refuses to be silenced. She raises her voice and remembers her friend for who he truly was: a caring young man who went to great lengths to take care of his family.
Angie Thomas’ best-selling young adult novel is heart-rending, tear-jerking, and truly beautiful. Set in the present-day, this book is perfectly appropriate for the nation’s current atmosphere of distrust between black communities and the police officers that serve them. Especially interesting is Khalil’s meditation on Tupac Shakur’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. and what it means to low-income, majority black communities.
For readers who enjoyed Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys and Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, this book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you think.