Starr feels like two different people at times. There’s the person she is at home and in her neighborhood. That’s the most genuine version. Then there’s the person she is at her mostly-white, suburban school. There she works to always speak in full sentences and complete words – no slang, always “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” She reigns in her feelings so she can’t be accused of ever being too angry or having too much attitude.
One night at a party in her neighborhood, shots ring out. Starr’s childhood friend, Khalil, gets her safely away from the violence and the party. But on their way home, they get pulled over by a police officer. The officer is belligerent about pulling them over; Khalil is indignant. After the officer pulls Khalil out of the car to pat him down (three times) and goes to run his license, Khalil comes back to the car to check on Starr. Three shots are fired. Khalil dies in the street in Starr’s arms.
Suddenly everything in Starr’s life changes. She questions her relationships and her two personalities. She watches as her two worlds respond to the shooting, and she wonders what, if anything, she can do for Khalil, for his family, and for her community.
Wow, this was so good. It was challenging, too. It challenged me to examine my biases and assumptions. There were cultural pieces and slang that I didn’t understand (not enough to impact my understanding of the story as a whole). And the topic itself – white officer kills unarmed black teen – is timely and difficult. But so important to think about and talk about.
I loved Starr. She’s not perfect. Her friends and boyfriend challenge her choices in the midst of her double life at home and school as well as the situation with Khalil. But she’s honest. She’s 16 and wrestling with big questions about home and identity. She wonders what her responsibility is to herself, her family, and her neighborhood. And there are no easy answers.
This is terrific food for thought – and discussion. If you are looking to add some diversity to your reading life or your high school classroom library, try this book. (language, violence)