As everyone knows, this book (deservedly) got a lot of praise when it came out, so I put it on my list, where it sat for a while. I didn’t pick it up because I don’t usually go for YA. It’s just not my cup of tea. Even YA books that I recognize are very good usually leave me feeling a bit dissatisfied at the end, either because the plot/style was too simplistic, or because I feel like the author pulled too many punches. Anyway, so, I am a grump who is perpetually wary of popular YA books. But this YA book is so great! It’s so great!
Thomas deftly presents the layers of life of her protagonist, Starr: she’s one of the only Black students in her fancy private high school, but she lives in a “bad” neighborhood where there are rival gangs, she’s dating a white boy. Thomas makes good use of all these contradictions and tensions. The conversations and relationships in Starr’s life show (never tell!) different facets of American systemic racism in a way that’s immediately instructive.
I think what makes it great is Thomas’ style. She just presents the story in such a natural, heartfelt, conversational way. The book is BIG: she’s dealing with police brutality, racism, socio-economic and cultural differences. It’s a lot! But Thomas just…does it. She’s just telling you how it is. She doesn’t oversimplify, or pull punches, or preach, but she still tells a brutal, important, of-the-moment story in such an accessible way–anyone can, and everyone should, read this book.