Updated review September 15, 2022:
Re-read this for Cannonballread’s Banned Book week. I did something a bit different for this though. I really just re-read my favorite parts of this book (which there are a lot) but then I also re-watched the movie that came out based on this book. I have to say parts of the movie were very well done, such as when Starr and her mother and others film the police with their phones when her father is being accosted by the police. But I sadly thought the movie just fell so flat because Amandla Stenberg as Starr didn’t really work for me. Plus I think the movie missed the humor and love that came out so well in the book. Parts of the movie just felt very rushed too. I do think that Regina Hall was awesome as Lisa Carter.
Original review: I got so many feels while reading this book.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas takes a look at a teenage black girl who is trying her best to be Starr back home in Garden Heights and Starr at her suburban prep school.
When Starr runs into her childhood best friend Khalil at a party, they end up leaving after a fight and gunshots ring out. Khalil and Starr are then pulled over by the police and before she can blink, Khalil is killed by a police officer and Starr is left grieving and scared that her speaking up about what she saw could leave her family in danger as well as her trying to deal with preconceived notions others may have about her and Khalil.
Starr’s voice shone throughout this book. I understood Starr’s guilt about going to a good school and knowing that she has a better way out than most in Garden Heights. She even has guilt about trying to hide her friends from back home (Kenya and Khalil) from her friends from school (Chris, Maya and Hailey). The tightrope that Starr has been walking comes crashing down after Khalil is murdered. And then the book starts the countdown from the shooting to a grand jury’s decision about whether to charge the officer with a crime for shooting Khalil.
Starr is also getting to that stage in her life that I call, so my white friends don’t get it, and honestly choose to continue to not get it, and we get to see that with regards to one of her interactions with her friend, Hailey.
I thought the interactions between Starr and Hailey were realistic. Believe me I had a couple of deja vu moments while reading this, since I had a Hailey in college and just like Starr’s mom said, I finally realized that the cons of the person outweighed the pros and cut her off.
I did love though that Thomas showed the other side of a white person being purposely obtuse and racist about other people’s experiences with Chris. Chris wants to learn and does not want to be left out on the reality of Starr’s life. I adored that kid. The ending with him, Starr, Starr’s brother Seven and their friend DeVante driving around post-riot was not only funny, but definitely showed that Chris was making sure that no matter what, he was by Starr’s side.
The other characters were so good. I loved Starr’s mother and father. Her brothers, even her Uncle Carlos who was a police officer and feels torn by being on what is considered “white man’s side.” I swear this book hit everything that many people have articulated in so many different ways that I found myself re-reading parts of it last night and just nodding my head.
Thomas doesn’t just make this a YA book, she makes this a YA book accurately showing the struggle for black Americans, for black men, black women, interracial relationships, the pain that we feel when we move away into what is considered “good areas”, etc.
Thomas is able to show you so many layers to Starr and the other characters in this book that is becomes mesmerizing to read. Even with the subject matter, I loved that Thomas was able to inject humor and show how for many black Americans that tragedy does not define us, that you still keep going as much as you can, as long as you can. Heck, Thomas even shows you how much simmering anger is under the skin for many black Americans in the U.S. right now, and how those that people screech about as “thugs” and “monsters” can finally just have enough and yes start rioting.
“Okay, so it is a good theory. Daddy claims the Hogwarts houses are really gangs. They have their own colors, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron, and Hermione never snitch on one another, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldermort. They’re scared to say his name. Really, that ‘He Who Must Not be Named’ stuff is like giving him a street name. That’s some gangbanging shit right there.”
“Momma reaches her fork onto my plate and breaks off a piece of pancake. What is Tumblr anyway? Is it like Facebook?
No, and you’re forbidden to get one. No parents allowed. You guys already took over Facebook.”
“Wait, wait, Seven says over our laughter, we gotta test him to see if he really is black. Chris, you eat green bean casserole?
Hell no. That shit’s disgusting.
The rest of us lose it, saying, He’s black! He’s black!”
The flow was pitch perfect. I did feel myself dreading the ending though because the closer we get away from X weeks after it (It meaning the shooting) and countdown to the decision since I was so scared that something would happen to Starr, her family, her friends, and others in the community.
I said in one of my updates yesterday that I can see this book being hailed as a classic when I am a little old lady, and I honestly still see that happening. I can see this being taught in school for decades to come because Thomas is able to hit so many things in this book about black women, men, rap music, education, racism, reverse racism (guess what, still not a thing) and even why mac and cheese is not a freaking meal. I thank her for this book. I had no idea how much I needed it.