Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Walker Books (6th April 2017)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood 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, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalils name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. 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 upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
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Holy mother of feels. This book. This book. THIS BOOK. Can you tell my nose is flaring, I’m breathing hard like my fat-cat-Garfield-like-self? That rarely happens, except for when I finish a book and feel like I’m about to spontaneously combust. But less about my internal emotions and more about this book.
While this may be one book, there are so many stories told within it. So so many. A story about racism. About stereotyping. About our current social climate. About interracial couples. About friendship and loyalty. Family. (Has the word ‘about’ started to lose all meaning to you too? About time, eh?).
Angie Thomas has written one of the most relevant, moving, and fiercely powerful stories of this year, of many years even. She’s given a solid, authentic and undeniably moving voice to a movement, to a group of marginalised and hurt people, who are being killed in broad daylight at the hands of the system meant to protect and serve - simply because of the colour of their skin. As a muslim woman myself, who wears a hijab - I have had my fair share of verbal abuse, endless streams of stereotyping and rude comments - but the plight of black people, the plight born and raised into the #BlackLivesMatterMovement is far more dangerous and horrifically, far too common. There are many, MANY groups of people, races and faiths, that are marginalised and abused - but in this current day and age, none more so than Muslims and black people. Yet put one of each in a car, in current day America, who do you think is more likely to be stopped, stereotyped on the spot as a thug, and shot at for no reason?
There’s so much in this book that makes you sit up and take notice, to really hone in on what’s going on, both on the surface and under the radar. Angie takes on a lot of really hot topics, and despite being a debut author, with her flawlessly on-point narrative and honest commentary through her character of Starr, shines *pun intended* light on issues such as the drug industry and the vicious cycle of damage it causes in black neighbourhoods. These “thugs” in her story, are mostly borne of unfortunate circumstances and poor prospects for their future which pushes them into this cycle and never lets them leave. The media, it’s representation of minorities and the tragic way in which it can distort reality, make people see and believe what they want them to, sometimes without even saying a word. Racism, the many faces of it, whether intentional or not, like even a simple comment about fried chicken being thrown out there - is racism. You may not be a racist person, but that sure as hell doesn’t stop you from making racist remarks. Intentional or unintentional, it’s racism, white privilege, and prejudice at its best.
At the heart of it all, is the issue of police brutality, how all it takes is one single misinterpreted moment, for literally, your life to come crashing down around you. For your life to be taken. And all you will hear about it, is the race of the person killed, the colour of their skin, their age, and their stereotyped persona - in that order. Black teenager, aged 18, killed in connection to suspected drug cartel and in possession of a gun. Often not even a name, no mention at all that they might have been a straight A student, a kind boy who helped around the neighbourhood, unless of course, it’s a white person. In which case their name, followed by their many accomplishments and possibilities of a scholarship, promising athletic career, are the first things you’ll hear about. Layers and layers of positives to hide the dirty deeds of rape, or assault, or the fact that they stabbed an unarmed, innocent black person in the back simply because he was black. Can you tell I’m angry? I am. You should be too. We all should be. This story, though about unarmed Khalil, is more than just a story, though brilliantly told, it’s the reality of black people in this day and age.
The characters in this story are outstanding. Every single one. Starr, her courage and fear, both go hand in hand in making her an extremely relatable, honest and raw character to perfectly move this story forward. Her parents and family, who I simply adored, especially her uncle - were heartwarmingly real, putting the needs and wants, and safety of their children first and foremost. Her dad, who I especially loved, was such an important character - he didn’t coddle Starr, but nudged her to be her own person, to be brave, whether that meant putting a target on her back, because as her Dad, he will always have her back and wouldn’t let anything happen to her. He wanted her safe, but he also wanted her to be honest, unafraid, unashamed, and fierce - for her voice to be heard. Starr’s Uncle - a police officer himself, who bruised his knuckles on the man who dared point a gun at her. Her half brother Seven, who jumps in the middle of a fight to protect his sister in school. These black men, aren’t heroic and meant to be glorified - but rather these are what real, normal, black men are. Family men, men who love and protect - not moulded to fit the stereotype of thug, gangster, druggie. Starr’s white boyfriend, Chris - though this book wasn’t about the romance, throwing that in there was another great move from the author, to highlight the differences in Starr’s world, vs Chris’ - but also how through understanding and communication these differences and why it matters to each, can strengthen a relationship.
There's so much to say about this book, the characters, the story, the love and the loss - the feelings it gave me when reading it and the many, MANY moments I was brought close to tears. This is such an important book that dissects facets of our society, the flaws, the pitfalls, and also the hopes for the future, about human resilience and courage. But also, it’s a fantastic book in itself, written with such authenticity from a black author, weaving together not just some of the most important parts of our history, but also bringing together a book worthy of reading, and weirdly, enjoying, as there was laughter, sadness, and so much more hidden under the many layers of this story. Characters that stand out, events and dialogues that really pack a punch - this was one hell of a debut from Angie Thomas and I would trade my left arm to read more of her writing in the future. Believe every word of hype about this book, and then some - because you will not be disappointed. You will laugh, you learn, and you will hopefully come out the other side, just a little bit more aware, a little bit more attuned and a little bit more courageous.