Although one’s looks may not be completely obvious over the nets that inter, you may be surprised to hear that I am in fact, a white girl…with blue eyes, medium-length brown hair, and a build that’s not too fat or too thin. I get the feeling when people meet me and see me later, they think, “Have I met her before?” That’s because they can’t quite place me, as they’ve seen me in every other blue-eyed, brown-haired, medium-built white girl. I just don’t have anything particular about my appearance that stands out. No flaming red hair, no obvious birthmarks or peculiarities, just a very generic white girl look.
I like to think my genericism is only skin deep, of course. But I suppose internally I’m still just as generic as everyone else, if we can all agree everyone has their own unique story to tell.
And it’s Starr’s story we are focusing on today. Sixteen-year old Starr struggles with her identity. On the outside, she is black. On the inside, in some ways she might wish she were more generic. Unfortunately, she is dealing with a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common across the United States – the death of young black men at the hands of police. And this time, it’s her friend, and she is a witness to the event. (Don’t hate if you think that’s a spoiler – I haven’t revealed more than the movie previews have).
If that’s not enough, Starr has a duality in her personality that is becoming too exhausting for her to keep up, especially in the wake of recent events. She has her home life, with her family and friends from her neighborhood, which she would describe as a ghetto. And then there’s her school life, which is in a mostly white, suburban setting.
As you may guess, I identify more with Starr’s school life. So when she’s at home and says things like she gave dab to her brother, or did the nae-nae, I have to consult Dr. Google for enlightenment. It was interesting to understand her non-school life and identity. I had questions, like, would Starr act the same way around a white person in her neighborhood? Or what about a black person at her school? How much of her personality and identity is tied to her environment (living in her neighborhood versus being black?
And this latter point is something that the author addresses really nicely. She gives Starr a strong voice and makes her family just as interesting (if not more so in the case of her father) than Starr. It’s from them we learn the meaning behind Starr and her siblings’ names, and what THUG life really means. And it is this whole angle upon which the book title is based – an eye-opening insight that had me googling Tupac Shakur and learning more about his life and music. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, any book that has me seeking out new information beyond its pages is a winner to me.
So it’s a thumbs up for this relevant and culturally necessary novel.
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