Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Starr Carter witnesses her friend being shot by a cop as they're driving home after a party. The news immediately turns it into a story of a white cop defending himself against two black kids, but Starr knows that's not what happened.
As time goes on and she grieves the death of her friend, Starr has to decide how she's going to let this story play out - and if she's going to use her voice to make a difference in the community she loves so much.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: October 7, 2018
I picked this up along with two of my classmates for a class project, and because of procrastination, ended up reading it in 2 days. Instead of getting it and starting it two weeks earlier like a normal person, I waited until I saw a friend and asked if I could borrow his copy (thanks, Jordan) so I wouldn't have to pay money and wait for shipping.
So, I knew all the hype about this when I went into it. The book is still one of the most recent critically acclaimed releases because of what it talks about and the way it handles police brutality. After speeding through it in two days, I had to admit that I saw a lot of why people loved it so much.
Firstly, I don't think I've ever read another book about police brutality. It's not a common topic in YA literature and it's not something people really started talking about until the past couple of years. I don't think it's an easy thing to talk about either. The topic has to be approached in a very thoughtful and understanding manner, or it runs the risk of offending people who have experienced police brutality. Now, I want to make it clear that I've NEVER experienced anything like that. I have no idea what it's like to be mistreated by police because of my race, or to be threatened by them because of it. I don't make any claim to understand what that's like. And having said that, my perception of this is going to be VERY different than someone who is African American.
I thought that this book dealt with its subject very well. I think that it touched on a lot of different aspects of police brutality, including the discrepancy between what really happened and what the media said had happened. There was a lot of discussion as to why it happened and what it meant for the community. There was also a lot of talk about the tension between the African American and white characters in this book. Naturally, there would be tension between the races because of what happened, and I think that it was pretty accurate considering the trauma of Starr watching one of her closest friends getting shot in front of her.
To me, the story is more about Starr finding her place in all of this and finding her voice. It's a hard thing to speak up about the truth when your race is enough to discredit you, but Starr also has to deal with the personal repercussions of a decision like that. Not only does she go to a predominantly-white school, her boyfriend is also white. That makes things all the more difficult because there is a question of what would happen if she spoke out and those people in her life didn't understand.
Now, there were definitely some things that could have been done better. Several of the characters felt really flat despite the length of the book, like Starr's boyfriend, Chris, and her best friend, Maya. There was a conveniently placed police officer character who balanced things out, and during discussions with my group in class, we agreed that none of us would have that convenient person in our life to help us navigate something as difficult as this.
I did really enjoy the family dynamics within the book. Undoubtedly, it was my favorite part of the whole thing and I could not have been any happier with it. The relationship between Starr and her parents is something I greatly appreciated, as not many YA books really feature parents very heavily. There's also a good amount of focus on the relationship between Starr and her half-brother, Seven. In general, the family aspect was the book's strongest element, and I think that it showed how families can disagree on topics, but still be there for each other during hard times. It was also really interesting to watch all the dynamics in play because Starr doesn't have the most conventional family.
One thing that I wish was touched on more was the aspect of interracial relationships, both romantic and platonic. Starr has two best friends, Hailey and Maya, whom she has trouble telling about the shooting of her friend. Hailey is white and Maya is Chinese, which creates tension when Starr begins posting more about events like #BlackLivesMatter and people who have been affected by police brutality. Eventually, we do find out that Hailey is uncomfortable with Starr's outspokenness in this matter and that Hailey has a history of making off-the-cuff racist remarks that she doesn't see a problem with. It's something I wish was dealt with better because that whole relationship felt like it was incredibly abrupt, both in how the conflict started and ended. Adding to that the fact that Maya felt like a conveniently thrown in token Chinese character, it felt to me like this trio was written so that racism in friendships could be address, though maybe not addressed in the most fleshed-out manner. I wanted more development there.
Another thing that I wanted more explanation of was the dynamic between Starr and Chris. Having been in an interracial romantic relationship myself, I know it's not as simple as sitting down and telling each other how you feel and then starting to date from there. Starr mentions that she had a talk with her mom about Chris' race, and he also says that he talked to his parents about her race, but it's never built upon more than that. We're shown their relationship a year after they started dating, when the conversations about race are already past. But looking at the way she reacted to Chris after experiencing the shooting of her friend, it made me wonder if they had the race conversation in the first place. I don't know if I would be able to have a relationship with someone without having several in-depth conversations about race and what that means for the relationship because of how many new elements that brings with it. But that's a topic that I could go on and on about in a manner completely unrelated to this review.
Something worth mentioning is that this book contains a lot of pop culture references, and that was something I struggled with while reading. I'm not the biggest fan of books that use pop culture references because it dates the book after a few years, and it can also feel like the author is trying too hard to relate to the teen generation. Will this affect the book's success in a few years? Maybe. Does it add anything to the book? Not really. I kind of wish that it was left out because it would have made certain parts less cringey.
I thought that the ending of the book was very appropriate for the story, though I might have wished for some of my questions about smaller elements to have been answered. Still, I think that it was wrapped up in a good way and that it was done in the best way possible for this story.
I enjoyed reading from Starr's perspective and seeing how she reacted to the shooting and everything that happened afterward. I had some trouble getting used to her voice in the beginning, but that got easier with time as I flew through the book. My biggest complaint about her character is the way she ultimately deals with the interracial relationships in her life and how little thought she gives to them. Maybe it's just part of who she is, but I know that none of the interracial relationships in my life, both platonic and romantic, have ever been able to exist without a thoughtful conversation about the roles that race plays within the relationship and our ability to understand each other.
Lisa Carter, Starr's mom, is my favorite person in this whole book. She's so strong and such a role model for her children. Not only does she raise her children in a way that really prepares them for the world, she also doesn't hesitate to call them out when they're being unreasonable. Her words of wisdom are incredible and I have them written down so I can remember them forever.
Chris needed more character development. He needed to be his own person outside of his relationship to Starr, and he needed more substance. I liked him enough for the role that he played, but I still wanted more.
Khalil, the boy who was shot, was a wonderful character to read about. We learn about him through the stories that Starr tells us about their childhood and through interactions with other characters. Though he's alive for a very short portion of the book, his presence was so great throughout that I felt like I had a really good understanding of who he was by the time the book ended. It makes me sad that his character would never get to have the future he so desperately wanted.
5 stars. I have my problems with the book, but I think this is worth the rating because of how it deals with the larger topic of police brutality, racial profiling, and racism. There's just too much for Angie Thomas to fit into a book this length (it's already 444 pages) without sacrificing the greater topic, and for that, I will let my problems with the book slide more.