This debut novel published this year (2017) has a very important message. John Green, author of the phenomenal The Fault is in Our Stars, describes it as a “stunning, brilliant novel that will be remembered as a classic of our time.” Another author says it is “fearlessly honest and heartbreakingly human.” Yet another calls it ” tragically timeless.” I don’t know if I agree with the “classic” label, maybe so among young adults as Green’s novels have come to be, but the other descriptions are right on the money.
Starr Carter is a seventeen year old African American girl living in the “bad” part of town, but she attends a prestigious college-prep high school on a scholarship. Chris, her white boyfriend may be the only stereotype in the novel; either he truly loves her as he says he does, or he is “too good to be true.” One night, Starr, leaving a party where shots have been fired with her friend,Khalil, whom she’s known since they were three years old, are pulled over by the police, and unarmed Khalil is shot and dies in Starr’s arms. Starr’s parents who are extremely strict are supporting and generally cool, but are drawn into the chaos that Starr’s life becomes as the media invades her neighborhood and home, first describing her as an unnamed witness, then putting a name to the witness, informing all of her white, rich friends of her involvement and her background neighborhood, something she has been hiding from them. She hears things at school like, “He had it coming,” and “He must have been a drug dealer” before they know she was there when it happened.
The author explores the gulf between black and white, rich and poor, and paints Starr as an “ordinary girl caught up in extraordinary circumstances.” Issues of racism, police violence, gangs, and poverty are explored from the “inside.” If you, like me, were taught in first grade that “The policeman is our friend; if you get lost or separated from your parents, look for one,” then you are probably privileged and white like me. This is an important book that everyone, young person or adult, should read.