Starr lives in a poor neighborhood but goes to a fancy school across town where she is one of the only minority students. She has friends in both worlds but never talks much about her life at home with her white school friends. While at a party in the neighborhood one night she runs into her old friend Khalil and accepts a ride home with him. They are stopped by a police officer who believes Khalil is reaching for a nonexistent gun and shoots him while Starr watches her friend die on the street. Starr wants to keep her presence at the shooting a secret from most of the world outside of her family, but she feels the effects of it on her. She notices that she feels nervous when she's with her white boyfriend and she's offended by the things her friends at school say about Khalil as his story makes the news and he is branded as a thug and drug dealer. When Starr finally decides to take a stand she is pulled even deeper into the controversy and finds it affecting some of her closest relationships.
I pre-ordered this book because the buzz was already so huge about it. I started it on the day it was released but put it aside at that time after just a few pages because I knew I couldn't use it for a county wide reading program for which I was reading at that time due to the language and content, so I just got back to it recently. Since its release, the book has only gotten bigger which is why I'm unhappy to say that I'm not over the moon about it. All the parts of the core story of Khalil's death are so important - the shooting of an unarmed black boy, the demonizing of him in the press, his reasons for the life he was living, and Starr's PTSD and fear about speaking up - but the rest of book bogged down with all of the messages that Thomas crammed into it that came across to me as lectures rather than organic parts of the story. In particular, I remember the scene where Starr's boyfriend asked why African-American people have such weird names. The subsequent answer to that question really felt like an important fact to be learned rather than something that helped the story.
I've seen quite a few reviews talk about reverse racism in the book and I want to address that. The scene that seems to come up the most is when Starr is having problems with her boyfriend and tells him that part of the problem is that he is white. I finished this book more than a month ago so I don't remember if Thomas actually uses the term PTSD, but it is clear to me that is what is happening to Starr. Let's be clear: THIS SCENE IS NOT AN EXAMPLE OF RACISM ON STARR'S PART. She is having flashbacks to the horrific thing she witnessed and that has made her look at things in her life differently.
I wasn't all that fond on Starr's father in his insistence that they continue to live in the 'hood when he could've moved them to a suburban neighborhood much earlier. But that's not a criticism of the book or storyline, that's just my frustration at him for endangering his own family to make a point. I get what he was trying to do with revitalizing from within, but it made me like him a lot less as a character.
In summary, it's clear that Thomas has a strong voice and a lot to say. I just wish she hadn't tried to put all of it into this one book. I think Starr's story would've been stronger if the book had been about 100 or more pages shorter.