Published by Balzer + Bray on February 28th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: the publisher
Buy on Amazon
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice. Movie rights have been sold to Fox, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) to star.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Going into this, I want it to be known that I doubt my ability to put into words the greatness that is this book. I also want to preface this with saying that I am white and I have lived in a mostly white community growing up. My life changed in that aspect when I began teaching six years ago where I became the only white person in the room. I’ve learned so much and continue on this path of learning and understanding. Starr’s story was so insightful and I truly, truly believe that every single person needs to read it at some point or another.
Starr witnesses two deaths in her lifetime. One at the age of ten in a drive-by shooting. Now, her best friend since childhood Khalil. This time it was a routine traffic stop that led to an unarmed black teenager being shot by a police officer. The only witness who can speak for Khalil is Starr and by the end of the story she and those around her learn that your greatest weapon really is your voice.
It’s really difficult to choose, but I think the thing I loved about this book the most was the diversity of the characters and their differences in opinions throughout the story. There was nothing one-sided about this story. Therefore, it shows the events in a light that cannot be misconstrued by enormous bias. For example, there are white characters who have differing opinions on Khalil being shot by a cop and at one point Starr’s uncle and father were on opposite sides of the argument and both men were black. I thought it was also very powerful how it was shown that not all protesters believe in rioting and ruining neighborhoods without romanticizing the effects of the aftermath. The harsh realities represented in this book are real and the author kept them that way. This is what people need to see and experience, even if that experience only ever takes place through the pages of a book.
The characters were extremely well done in every aspect. I found Starr’s double life to be heartbreaking. Feeling like you can’t be all of yourself 100% of the time seems stressful and confusing. I personally loved that her boyfriend was white and seeing the dynamic of how the different members of her family and friends felt about it. I felt like I could relate to that because of my dating history. It also shows that at the end of the day, the other person’s color of skin is not relevant, but rather the character of the persona and their willingness to love and accept you is the most important part. The love between her mother and father was so cute and definitely relationship goals.
The love that was portrayed between Starr, her brothers, her parents, and the relationship she had with her Uncle Carlos were other standout parts of this book. Starr has two brothers, Seven and Sekani. Seven was technically her half-brother on her dad’s side that was born after her parents were together. Despite the mistake her father made, her mother was wonderful to Seven. So many people grow up in homes with step-parents and with half siblings and seeing an example of a healthy relationship is vital for teenagers in my opinion. While her dad served time in prison, her Uncle Carlos steps up and helps all three children. Because of this Starr feels like she has two dads sometimes. It’s hard for her father to accept, but in the end this difficult situation helps the two find common ground.
This story is so much more than the Black Lives Matter movement. Family, the realities of gangbanging, growing up in a rough neighborhood, finding your voice, learning about what’s important to you, accepting your background, love, interracial relationships, acceptance, heartbreak, and so much more is represented within these pages.
I think it’s easy to guess my overall rating of this book. Easily one of the best books of 2017 and by far the most influential. PRE-ORDER NOW! I promise you won’t regret it!
*Teacher note: Personally, while the characters never had sex, it was mentioned a couple of times in very clear ways and therefore I would not allow a student in elementary school or the beginning of middle school read this without parental consent. Strong language was used, but mature students would be able to handle that along with the occasional violence.