CBR Bingo – Snake, thanks to Officer Cruise and others like him that cannot understand their fear is not more important than the lives they take
16 year old Starr Carter is a master at code-switching. Growing up in Garden Heights, she is used to her community being full of lively characters full of love who look out for one another amidst gun shots and drug deals. When she is at home, she feels slightly isolated from this community, who sees her as an outsider because she attends school across town at a predominantly white prep school. At her school, she has friendships, even a boyfriend, but she maintains a distance from her friends, for fear of seeming too “ghetto” for them. She is perpetually stuck between her two worlds, until she witnesses a terrible crime. Driving home from a party, a childhood best friend is shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Starr witnesses the event, and knows that her friend did not deserve to die at the hands of that cop – not even if he was selling drugs, as he is portrayed by the media to be a gang member rather than a victim of violence.
The book details Starr’s attempts to come to terms with the violence she witnessed, and its ramifications in her life both at home and at school. Around her, each community reacts to the event in different ways, and she is forced to confront her relationships – with her uncle, a cop; with her elder brother, whose mother is in a relationship with a drug dealer; with her boyfriend, whose whiteness she has not fully considered before; with her best friends from school, who may not be able to understand her perspective (or be willing to try).
This is a great example of YA fiction, with complicated families and plenty of teenage tension. It’s also incredibly socially complex, dealing openly with issues of race in a way that is balanced (there’s not a clear “Fuck the police” message here – Starr specifically avoids that – it’s more a clear understanding that police officers have a duty to actually protect communities, and their fear of certain people prevents them from doing that). Banning this book because of the curse words used is inane to me – okay, I wouldn’t choose it for a read aloud because I teach students K-8, but I could see it being taught in a Freshman English class. Students would certainly be interested in the story and characters – it’s a rich text, one that offers a lot of space for interpretation.