Book review time!
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. (Goodreads)
This is another piece of young adult fiction, which when I read the synopsis I could not resist reading. I was not disappointed.
This book is an exact example of why I love reading. Reading is an opportunity to learn about life and life experiences from varying perspectives, and without this opportunity life can be incredibly singular. I am a person who lives a relatively privileged lifestyle and I have never experienced atrocities such as institutional racism and class conflicts, which is what this book focuses on.
I found this book enlightening, frustrating, upsetting and extremely emotive. It follows Starr’s experiences in the aftermath of her friend’s death and the implications on her psychologically and on her family and community. What I found really interesting and important about this book is the stages and the ways in which Starr grieves. While she refrains from talking about Khalil’s death with certain people and she has many a breakdown, she also exhibits the way in which life goes on, as she continues to do all of the things teenagers do; such as going to prom, playing basketball and more. This aspect in itself shows that while her friend’s death is a tragedy, it is something that her community is familiar with and has become adapted to, which I find extremely sad.
This book does an excellent job of describing the community that Starr lives in; through gang culture, violence, lack of public funding and security and through her own family. Starr’s family, while close knit have experienced a variety of problems in their past which illustrate the difficulty of living in a ghetto type of area. This book does an excellent job of emphasising how difficult it is for individual’s to succeed and break away from these types of environments and living situations and the lack of help they receive to do so.
The hardest part of reading this book for me was that it is fictional, but it is based on very real events that have – in many cases – divided the United States. Police brutality and racism amongst the police is real. While Khalil was not a real person, he is a representation of all of the defenceless victims who were penalised through race. There are so many aspects in this book which I have seen in reality; such as the reaction to police shootings on social media and the focus on blaming the victim rather than the culprit (the police officer). In this book, Starr attends a private school which is comprised of mostly white students, and I found this to be an extremely interesting choice, as you see the difference in how Starr’s all black community reacts to Khalil’s death, and the way in which her schoolmates react. At her school, the main point of discussion are points which make Khalil look worse or seem deserving of what happened to him, which highlights the contrast in attitudes. Witnessing this form Starr’s perspective broke my heart and frustrated me and made me feel guilty for any time that I may have behaved similarly.
I found the fact that Starr attended a predominantly white high school even more interesting when you see just how much Starr censors herself when she is around her peers. Starr tends to keep a lot of her life private as she knows it would be greeted with distaste from her classmates. She has to contend with cultural appropriation and being the ‘black girl’ and various other struggles. I found it so interesting how Starr describes herself as having two personas; her school persona and her real self. While I found this really upsetting, I acknowledge that this is – annoyingly – a reality for a lot of people.
In addition to being an excellent look at institutional racism and culture in America, this book also does a great job of depicting the struggles of a teenage girl. Despite everything going on in Starr’s life, she is still contending with other issues; such as relationships, exploring sex, toxic friendships and more. I found that this book not only made me think, but it was also quite enjoyable and positive in parts, which is a hard balance to achieve.
In summary, this book is a great read, and I am glad that it exists. As long as these sort of issues present themselves in our society, books like this are necessary. I also am extremely pleased that this book is being marketed towards young adults, who are the future of society and who can facilitate changes in attitude across the world. Keep this circulating.
I hope you guys enjoyed this book review!