For me, books are usually entertainment, a way to pass the time, best enjoyed with a large glass of red wine. I do sometimes push my boundaries, read stories about people who have very little in common with me and that does make my world just a little bit bigger, but I forget just how much and how well books can teach us. I find this especially important in books aimed at teenagers because their brains are still forming and if they can hardwire themselves with this kind of media, the future might be just a little less bleak.
I knew the broad strokes of this book going in – I knew that very early on, our narrator was going to witness an old friend be murdered by the police, and the rest of the book would be the after. I didn’t know how much this book was going to have to teach me about a Black experience in America. Starr walks the reader through every minute detail of the fraughtness of every police encounter, of the fear and the shame and the anger and the way that she in turn must police herself for her own survival. The simple exhaustion of living as a Black girl in a country that is looking for any excuse out there to demonize her and reduce her to a statistic or stereotype. The realities of living in communities bereft of opportunity and the fucking critical importance of context and history when talking about issues our country faces today. I hope like hell that middle and high schoolers can read this and learn a little more about listening (and also about teaching themselves because don’t rely on the emotional labor of other people when the entire internet is at your fingertips). These are things I knew logically but had never sat inside of. As a white woman, I’ll never know know but ahh I’m babbling and failing.
Black lives don’t exist to teach white kids Important Lessons About Race and Starr’s story is also about her own growth as she navigates young adulthood. This is also my push to read Black (and other BIPOC) stories that aren’t about pain. I do wish I had a young adult in my life I could gift this to (or that my parents would read YA because it isn’t just younger generations with a capacity to learn).