Knowing she’d rather have stayed home watching reruns of Fresh Prince on her laptop, Starr isn’t even sure why she’s agreed to accompany Kenya to the party at which she’s found herself. But while she is wandering around (Kenya of course has dumped her), she finds Khalil, her old best friend, whom she has not seen in months. They slip into old comfortable conversation when suddenly gunshots ring out. She and Khalil run for what she believes will be safety – not knowing that this moment will affect the rest of her life.
This story is a young adult novel, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, about the murder of a black boy by a white police officer. The story invites the reader to step into the life of this friend of the victim, Starr, whose life is already complicated as she is grappling with having to straddle two different communities – the poor neighborhood in which she lives and the affluent school she attends. Her two worlds require two different personae and this is a lot to juggle for a young woman of 16 years.
As the events unfold, it becomes clearer that Starr is the only witness to the murder that has occurred and it is up to her to come forward and testify. And here is the difficulty: history has taught us that this is hard – and we’ve seen this again and again particularly in the past few years. While police have incredibly difficult jobs to do and we owe them a debt of gratitude for what they do every day, there are always a few that take their power too far or have too low a threshold for fear of “other” and assume that the “other” is going to do something harmful to them first. This is the case in this story, and this is often the narrative in these cases where there is a wrongful death. There is a presumption of guilt based on race and circumstances when that is an unfair presumption.
There is a lot of humanity to this story. There is circumstance and perspective on the drug dealing issue and how and why some people get involved – which some might feel is obvious but others might not appreciate. There is also the recurrent theme of a person’s right to presumption of innocence, and right to life and liberty and so on even if he might be a drug dealer. This is a serious point. On the other hand, I do think that dehumanizing the cop that shot the victim by referring to him by only his badge number almost throughout does not serve a purpose. I think that creates its own bias and one sided perspective and I think presenting the other side would have only made the story stronger.
In any case, I do think this is an important book for most people to read, but especially young readers. Definitely a must read!