* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *
Publisher: Walker Books
Release Date: April 6th 2017
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
This is probably one of the highest profile YA releases of the year and after reading it, it’s easy to see why. I don’t feel like there’s a lot I can say about this that hasn’t already been said but it’s so good it needs a review anyway.
Starr is the only witness to the shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Through her grieving, Starr has choices to make about whether she stays quiet or speaks out. She’s used to living a double life between her poor neighbourhood and her fancy suburb high school, but this event brings the two together and makes her choose between the two different versions of herself.
This book is so relevant at the moment with the amount of high profile unarmed shootings that we hear about on the news, and all the ones we hear less about too. I liked that it didn’t present Khalil as a saint: yes he sold drugs, he may have been in a gang – but does that mean he deserved to be shot for doing nothing wrong? The answer to me is obviously not, but the way it’s presented on the news makes people think otherwise.
I thought the way Starr had two different versions of herself was really quite sad. It’s horrid to think that you can’t be yourself around people who are supposed to be your friends because you’re worried about what they’ll think, that she had to make herself stay calm to avoid being seen as an ‘Angry Black Girl’ stereotype.
The characters in this book were all brilliantly written. I loved the different relationships between Starr and her family. The way her parents were written showed them as real, present parents rather than the absent or stereotype ones you often get in YA. They were strict sometimes, often funny and clearly loved all their kids very much. Similarly, the way Starr interacted with her brothers showed real sibling relationships: loving but with plenty of annoyance and teasing.
I know this book is in a setting that’s far from what I’m used to: I’m a white, British woman from a middle-class family so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be Starr or anyone else in her situation. But it’s so good to read something that’s not about people like me. It’s been said a lot lately but it can always be said more: we need diverse books. We need representation in books for all kinds of people, because everyone deserves to read about people like them.
Starr was taught things in her life that I never had to learn. Her parents gave her a talk to tell her what to do if the police ever pull her over. Keep your hands visible, no sudden movements etc. When I was younger, I was told to find a police officer if I was in trouble but it’s different for Starr. They’re not necessarily going to help her, just because of the colour of her skin. I think we can all get a bit of a funny feeling around police officers – I know I feel guilty around then even when I’ve done nothing wrong – but Starr is terrified around them and that’s not how anyone should have to feel around someone with that power.
I don’t want to write spoilers about how things turn out but I felt it was true to life rather than putting a fairy tale end on things. It did all the things it was supposed to: it made me sad, angry, annoyed that this is a book but that this is actually what happens in real life. We all need to speak out like Starr if we can, add our support to the voices that need to be heard and never stop working to make things better for everyone.
This book deserves all the praise and the hype it’s getting and I really recommend you pick it up. Aside from the important message inside the book, it lets the publishing world know that we want Own Voices stories, we want to read books about a diverse group of people, and by a diverse group of people too.