When Starr was 12, her parents taught her the facts of life. Her mother explained the mysteries of sex, while her father instructed her on how African Americans behave if stopped by police. Four years later, Starr remembers her father’s words when she and her childhood friend, Khalil, are pulled over. But when Khalil makes an innocent move, the policeman shoots. Starr watches in horror as Khalil dies in the street. The media picks up the story, depicting Khalil as a gang member and drug dealer. Starr, who attends a prestigious, predominantly white high school, is repulsed by the sensationalism and initially tries to deny her involvement. But she learns that such silence grants free reign to racist justifications for violent policing of her tight-knit black community.
Starr’s life is rife with contradictions. Her neighborhood friends live in a world where violent death is a real threat, while her wealthier school friends view Khalil’s death as an excuse to skip school. Starr’s father is a former gang leader who is dedicated to improving their community, while her uncle is a police detective who lives in a safer neighborhood.
In her debut novel, Angie Thomas breathes life into the incidents that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, with nuanced characters and complex subplots. Like Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, the novel explores the ambiguity of perspective, but in this case, it’s always from Starr’s deeply personal viewpoint.
Diane Colson is the Library Director at City College in Gainesville, Florida.