THE PLOT: Starr Carter, an African-American teenager, lives in the hood but attends a prestigious, mostly white school. She splits herself in two: school Starr who’s afraid to act “too ghetto” and home Starr whose dad is an ex-gang member. After a hood party, Starr drives home with her childhood friend Khalil. Although Khalil’s mum is a drug addict, Starr realises that he has recently started dealing in order to look after his family. Their car gets pulled over by a police officer, who murders Khalil for no reason. Starr becomes a witness in the court case and she grapples with her two selves – wondering whether speak up against injustice.
MY RATING: I really enjoyed this contemporary YA novel, which is named after a Tupac song. It explores the Black Lives Matter movement deftly, using Tupac’s music to underpin the central theme of racial stereotypes. Although Khalil is a drug dealer and suspected gang member, he wasn’t doing anything wrong when he was killed, which is the central dilemma of the novel.
Starr’s relationship dynamics with supporting characters made this novel a winner. From Kenya, who is a sensitive stereotype, to DeVante, who is Khalil’s alter ego, they add a lot of depth to the central character’s development. I particularly liked Starr’s school friends who demonstrate their true integrity (or lack thereof) by their acceptance of how Khalil is portrayed in the media.
My main criticism is the slightly cringey use of slang. Ok, I’m not the target audience so I don’t know how the “kids speak” – as it were. But some of the pop culture references, such as dabbing and the 90s/Fresh Prince references, felt a bit forced. Despite this, the use of music lyrics was very successful.
Overall, I respect this is a young adult novel with some clear messages for its target audience so, as I’m in my late twenties, I don’t want to deconstruct elements that may have alienated me too much. I liked how author, Angie Thomas, skillfully weaves together the sub plots, such as Starr’s inter-racial relationship and drug abuse in African American communities. So, I would definitely recommend this book and I’m keen to read her future work.