I am not one to read young adult fiction all that much but thankfully book club picked this book for July. To think that I may have not read this book otherwise is dumbfounding because I absolutely loved it. This book is definitely worth all the hype that it gets. And I am not the only one who felt that way. Everyone in book club felt the same way.
Starr is a 16-year old who lives between two worlds: Garden Heights, the poor neighborhood where she grows up, and Williamson, the prep school she attends. She is careful to keep the two separate. Then after leaving a party, Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil at the hands of a cop. While everyone tries to figure out what happened, Starr debates whether she should come forward with her account.
“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
I think what makes this book so powerful is the perspective that Thomas provides the reader. This issue is at the forefront in our society. There have been countless cases and headlines in the news about a cop shooting involving a young black man and it seems that everyone has something to say about it. Yet, what we see on television or what we hear is completely different than experiencing it. And that is the missing link this book provides. Thomas puts the reader right in the front seat – literally.
Not only does the reader sit beside Starr and experience her best friend’s death, but then they get to go through the aftermath of it as well. Starr has to hear the disparaging comments made about her friend while getting intimidated by the cops who want to protect their own. I cried out of anger, frustration and sadness because while the book is fiction, it sadly happens everyday.
“Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.”
By using the shooting as the main plot to the novel, Thomas is also forcing the reader to think and discuss the associated stereotypes and cultural divides that result, from the perception about people living in the ghetto to gang violence, drug dealers, and racism between whites/blacks and even other minority groups. I thought it was telling how Starr feels that she has to be two different people. One person while she is with her family and friends in Garden Heights and then a completely different person while she is a student at Williamson.
It is because of this that Starr struggles whether she should even testify in the case against the cop. Even though, she sees firsthand what happened, she debates whether it is even worth it. Is it worth the pity she will get from her friends, the anger from the cops, the pain when the case goes in the cops direction? You don’t blame her. What would I do if I was in that situation? And yet, it is completely infuriating hearing the comments her friends make about Khalil. I don’t even want to mention how much I wanted to slap Hailey for every passive racist comment that came out of her mouth. And don’t even get me started when she sympathizes with the cop. Seriously?! Right then, I was ready to defend Starr for whatever decision she made.
“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
I was totally beside Starr at the end when she finds her voice. And while her actions may have instigated what happens next, I seriously could care less. I was standing right there, rooting her on.
This book really opened my eyes to an issue that, unless you experience it firsthand, you really cannot understand. It is for that reason, everyone should have to read this book.