Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 444 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: April 19, 2017
Finished: April 23, 2017
From the inside cover:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor black neighbourhood 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, Khalil's death is a national headline. Some are calling him a a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gang banger. Starr's best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protestors take to the streets and Starr's neighbourhood becomes a war zone. 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 destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.
Angie Thomas' searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty.
This book had so much hype leading up to its release, but unlike other books that receive similar pre-publication buzz, I had a feeling this book would completely live up to it. I wasn't wrong. This book is completely deserving of all the accolades it receives and more. I was recommending it to my students last week while I was reading it.
I am so happy that this book exists. This story is not only timely, but also incredibly powerful.
I also think everyone (yes, everyone) should read this book. Especially if you're white or otherwise privileged. Yes, I went there.
When Starr was ten, she witnessed her friend Natasha's murder during a drive-by shooting. That was the impetus for her mother Lisa and father Maverick to send all three of their children to a suburban school an hour away in her Uncle Carlos' neighbourhood, not only for a better education, but for a safer environment. Starr, and her brothers Seven and Sekani, learn to forever switch between two personas: their more polished, well-spoken selves they present at school, and their more relaxed authentic selves when at home in Garden Heights. Starr hates that she needs to do this, but she knows if she slips up at school, she'll be seen as the poor scholarship student from the ghetto who doesn't know how to act properly. Not only that, she'll jeopardize her relationships with her white friends and boyfriend and her chance at a better future that her parents worked so hard to obtain.
Amidst all this, Starr witnesses her childhood friend Khalil's murder at the hands of a cop. Not only does Starr have to testify to the police and the DA, but she also tries to hold things together at school, vowing not to let on that the "witness" mentioned in the case that's now made national headlines is actually her. The media and the offending police officer makes Khalil out to be a thug and a drug dealer (and all the kids at her school believe it), but Starr knows the whole story behind who Khalil really was, and is determined to not let his voice be forever silenced.
This book shows readers a type of life some of us can't even imagine. Whereas some children are taught that police officers are ones to seek out if they need help, Starr and her brothers are taught to not make any sudden movements in the presence of police and to keep their hands visible at all times. Where some kids are made to recite religious creeds or prayers, Starr and her brothers are raised on the Black Panther's Ten-Point Program. There's actually a really touching scene in the book where Maverick makes Starr repeat a few of the relevant points when she wants to back out of testifying due to threats made against her family. A lot of people out there have trouble understanding what white privilege really is; this book is like a crash course in it (Maverick's conversation with Starr on pages 167-171 sums it up nicely).
The author not only manages to make an authentic, honest novel based on the Black Lives Matter movement, she also doesn't make it preachy. She subtly weaves threads of community and family together till readers realize that this is the other side of the news stories. You don't see the guilt the survivors feel. You don't see the lack of choices that led people to their present actions. You don't see the nightmares. You don't feel the fear of the riots right outside your house. You don't feel the slight of racist comments that people shrug off as a joke. You don't have to watch your every word and movement for fear you won't be taken seriously otherwise. This book reminds me why we make kids read books to begin with: not just to learn, but to gain new perspectives and empathy.
Starr is an incredible character. She's a realistic teenager thrust into circumstances most of us can't even fathom, and even though she's scared out of her mind, with the support of her family she does the right thing for herself and those around her. All the secondary characters were nicely developed as well; I loved Seven and his unique situation and the perspective he brings to Starr's family, and Chris was nicely written as well as he tries to really understand Starr's perspective. I adored the family portrayal, it was incredibly loving and realistic. Lisa and Maverick fight, but they resolve conflict in healthy ways and still love each other to death. There's a scene where Starr calls them her OTP and says she looks to them as a role model for what she wants in relationships (that's right parents, the kids are watching us). Starr's parents know their kids and what they need, and ultimately make some hard decisions that conflict with what they initially want for themselves.
The book is bittersweet, mixing serious tragedy with humour (like the numerous Fresh Prince references) and ends on a realistic yet hopeful note. In terms of the writing style, I'm not sure if I imagined this, but the writing subtly changes when Starr is in Garden Heights versus at school in the suburbs, it was a nice reinforcement to the dual persona idea that Starr grapples with.
Everyone needs to read this. I'll even go so far as to say this should be required reading (heck, we can use it to complement To Kill a Mockingbird in terms of themes). Just go read this, you won't be disappointed.
Thoughts on the cover:
I love the simple white background with Starr front and centre (I love the detail on her shoes, nice touch from the book). The title font is written in such a way that it spells out THUG, which of course references Tupac Shakur/2Pac nicely.