Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Contemporary Fiction/Realistic Fiction
This was a heart-pounding, stunning debut novel by Angie Thomas. I had seen it everywhere before finally deciding to pick it up. Literally a week after I bought it, one of my university professors said I have to read it, as I am an educator as well as a lover of young adult books. Thus, I started reading it a bit sooner than planned, and I am bummed that I did not pick it up much, much sooner.
This story is told from the perspective of a Black sixteen-year-old girl whole is living two different lives, that of the ghetto in Garden Heights, and that of the high style of Williamson. In Garden Heights, there are gangbangers, drug deals, people get shot too often, and the education system is lacking, which is why Starr’s parents send her the hour drive to Williamson, a school in the suburbs that can offer her the education and socialization she needs away from Garden Heights. When she is in Garden Heights, she keeps to her Black friends and speaks often in slang that shows she is from the ghetto, but at Williamson, being one of the only Black students at the school there, she keeps her Garden Heights life pretty secretive and speaks properly, accepted by the White population there, not to mention her White boyfriend, Chris.
At the very beginning of the story, Starr goes to a Garden Heights party consisting mostly of Black people, but with a light skinned person here or there. When she has a run-in with her childhood friend, Khalil, the two begin to catch up after not seeing each other for months, but of course, shots are fired at the party. Khalil and Starr rush out to avoid the bullets. When they have a great evening catching up with each other in Khalil’s car as he aims to drop Starr off at home, a police officer pulls the two over. The officer is not very understanding and shows aggression, in which Khalil questions the officers motives. When Khalil asks why the officer pulled him over, the officer does not give a reply. Eventually Khalil complies. While the officer is checking Khalil’s information, he is toled by the officer to stand still, but Khalil aims to check on Starr, who seems scared. When he leans in to asks if she is okay, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM. Khalil is shot dead by the officer, an event that drives the whole rest of the novel. This is not spoilers, for it is within the first 25 pages, and it is heart-stopping. The drive for justice keeps the reader going, wondering if Khalil’s death will be justified.
All Starr has to go on is the officer’s number: One-Fifteen. Until she finds out his name is officer Cruise, she uses this number to identify him. When first asked to tell the police what happened, those interrogating Starr twist the questions from the officer to Khalil: was he in a gang? Was he a drug dealer? Did he have drugs on him? This is not why Starr chose to share about what happened. Of course, the officers make Khalil into a negative criminal to justify the officer’s actions, when to Starr and her community, this is a hate crime and comes down to simple color: Black and White.
Eventually a group called Just Us for Justice seeks out Starr to represent her in a court of law and help her justify Khalil’s murder by speaking out against officer Cruise. Starr prepares to share with a judge and jury, hoping that the officer will be convicted.
Starr becomes an activist for social change as she joins members of her community to fight for Black justice and to clear out the gangs and drug dealers in her community that are sending the wrong message to the world, that are adding truth to stereotype, when it is only a few, and not the many, who are as such.
This book was so great at showing the Black perspective and breaking down racial stereotypes. This book I recommend for all young readers to gain a better understanding of a perspective that either relates to them, or that they may not understand and need to see the other side. I highly recommend this book to educators and encourage reading and writing about social change as it pertains to this novel. One of the best things about this novel is that it is contemporary, revolving around issues that we still have in our society today, issues that some people may be ignorant about or may just want to ignore, issues that reflect our nation’s past and demonstrate a fight that is still being fought, the fight for equality.