Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Published: February 28th 2017
Genres: YA, Contemporary
My Rating: 5 Stars
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.
This book was a lot. I think most people who have read this book will agree. It’s not that there’s a lot going on, it’s an emotional journey that in our current political climate is a lot to read. Honestly, that’s the point of the book. I don’t think a person like me is supposed to feel comfortable reading it.
There are parts of this story I related to strongly, my middle school best friend is also dead. Extremely different circumstances, I didn’t watch him die, and we were in our twenties when he died, but the grief there is universal in a rough terrible way. I’m not saying I get what Starr is going through by any stretch of the imagination but losing a close friend to something preventable is a unique kind of grief and guilt.
I think this book is something that needed to exist right now. This is a book that exists to start a conversation, and hopefully, this book and the movie create that conversation with everyone. This kind of book exists to be talked about, to be picked for book clubs, to be discussed by every person who comes in contact with it.
I found Starr’s journey, deciding what role she wanted to play in the aftermath of Khalil’s death, compelling in an emotionally raw way. No one should have to do what Starr did, no one should see what Starr saw. Again, I think that’s the whole point of the book in a way.
The storyline of the two Starr’s, who she is in her fancy school versus who she is at home and in that community is universal in a unique way. I think everyone wears masks, most of them aren’t as different from each other or we don’t recognize we’re doing it as much as Starr does, but–for example– the person I was working retail and who I am around my friends are two different people. Being a teenager is hard to start with, add to that the stress of knowing you have to change core parts of your being depending on who you are around, and all the others things Starr has to deal with was overwhelming to read and I can’t imagine how this poor girl and people in real life who live lives like hers do it. It has to be emotionally exhausting.
I think the character of Hailey was a perfect microcosm of the larger story. Hailey is one of Starr’s friends at school. She does those little racist things that until you recognize what she’s saying and realize that she is doing it on purpose kind of slides under the radar for a while. I found the conversations that Starr and Maya have with her trying to explain how things Hailey says are problematic and hurtful is an important one that we also all need to be having. It’s not about hypersensitivity, as Hailey sees it. It’s about being respectful to the people around you and understanding your privilege.
There is a lot in this book and it’s brilliantly written in a voice that reaches out and puts Starr next to you as you read her story. It’s tragically beautiful, something everyone should read.
Until next time Internet,