Recommended Age: 18+
Tags: Crime, Diversity, Family, Racism, Social media
- Graphic language: Excessive language, including many F bombs, sexist and racial slurs, and use of the n word.
- Graphic violence: Detailed scenes of death by gunshots, along with rioting, police brutality resulting in tear gas and injury, racism, physical intimidation and threats to life, and physical fights.
- Mature sexuality: Kissing and brief descriptions of sex.
Starr Carter has grown up in the same neighborhood where her parents have always lived, and the people there are a family. But every family has problems, and Starr’s hometown struggles with poverty, gangs, and racism. Starr manages to stay out of trouble, thanks to her parents insisting she go to prep school an hour away. But one night, she decides to go to a party in her hometown.
When Starr and her friend Khalil get pulled over by a cop, it ends in Khalil’s death. The police are claiming Khalil was aggressive and armed, but only Starr knows the truth. She always thought she wouldn’t hesitate to spread the truth, but with both the police and the local gang lord threatening her family, Starr doesn’t know what to do. Should she risk her safety for the truth? And if the roles were reversed, wouldn’t Khalil do everything in his power to bring justice to both her and their community?
This book is absolutely phenomenal. It is incredibly well written and the story immediately sucks in the reader. The uncertainty that Starr feels in both her identity and her decisions is deeply relatable, no matter who you are. The strong sense of community in her home, along with the struggles her family and friends face every day, is heartbreaking and so relevant to the issues we’re facing today. Starr may struggle with who she is and who she wants to be, but that just makes her perspective so much more poignant and honest.
Between her home and her school, Starr feels like she lives in two very different worlds. She avoids the gangs and any semblance of trouble in her neighborhood to the point of being anti-social, but is excruciatingly aware of how her behavior reflects her race at school. She’s determined not to fulfill any racial stereotypes around her prep school friends, to the point where she feels like two different people. Most teens struggle with identity and feeling like a stranger, but that is especially true when Starr finds herself dealing with the aftermath of her friend’s murder at both home and school.
These characters have seen tragedy, not just watching family and friends being racially profiled and shot, but the every day oppression and struggle of circumstance. In Garden Heights, kids have to be aware of what can happen if they encounter a cop, despite the fact that police members are supposed to be the ones we turn to for safety. Yet the students at Williamson Prep are only aware enough of social events to use as an excuse to get out of class. Moving away from Garden Heights is considered giving up on family, and turning away from a community desperate for change. The different locations in this book are essentially their own characters, playing a role in Starr’s life just as much as the people do.
The characters are so heartbreakingly honest, and the moments between family and friends taking care of each other are genuinely touching. There’s also some fun humor, especially about the differences between races. I really appreciated the way the author faced conversations about race, especially in the kids. When parents and adults talk about race, it’s much more serious. But kids can joke around about white people dancing awkwardly and being obsessed with Target, while still having open discussions about differences in everything as harmless as names to more serious things like interracial relationships.
This author takes a horrifying situation, not shying away from the racism and brutality and oppression, but also humanizing something that could easily become just another headline. Starr is sickened by her friend’s murder being shrugged off as just another thug caught by the police. This author makes it very clear that this casual approach to news needs to end, and the story is always deeper than what appears. She takes a centuries long battle with racism, weighed down by history and culture and prejudice, and simplifies it.
A black life matters. People already assume white lives matter, and you can easily say all lives matter. But the truth is not everyone understands that society needs to specifically acknowledge that black lives matter so we can overcome racism and oppression. Everyone should have the right to feel safe in their home. Everyone should feel protected by the police. Everyone should feel like a person, and not just a figurehead for their race. Angie Thomas’ award winning novel tackles racism and portrays the Black Lives Matter Movement in a way that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming but most importantly her words inspire action in a time when we need it most.
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