I am now back at it after a week or so and bringing you another book review. This novel took me longer to read than usual as I have been both busy and feeling under the weather but thanks for being patient with me and still showing me love. I appreciate it more than you all know.
The novel tells the story of a teenager named Starr Carter, a young woman who inhabits two worlds; that of her home of Garden Heights and her private high school Williamson Prep. Her life changes in one single moment when her childhood best friend Khalil, is shot by a white police officer, whilst he is unarmed. As Starr is the only witness, she is heavily involved in providing evidence for the case, deal with her conflicting emotions and grief and also in trying to get justice for Khalil. Whilst this is the driving point or main focus of the novel, the story also makes key comments about racism, class, media influence, community and encapsulates the spirit and key discussions of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Where do I even begin with this book? I will begin by saying that what Thomas has written is so important. It will stay with me and there were points where I had to put the book down as I was so moved. I made the mistake of reading a particularly emotional section whilst on the bus and honestly had to hold back tears, it is just so raw and I feel like Thomas has really managed to capture what Starr or indeed what a person in her situation in reality would feel. It is never cheapened or for shock value, it has heart and it shows.
There is a quote in particular that I feel is so relevant:
“I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”
Undoubtedly, we have all come across these hashtags and pictures that Starr mentions, and we have most probably shown our support and felt like we have done our bit. The novel raises important questions about whether this is enough and how we can all be more active in our responsibilities to each other and combatting injustice and racism when we see it happening. Using more than just mere clicks and social media.
The characters are well rounded and feel real, you grow to care for them and when things go badly you grieve with them and also find happiness with them. Starrs family is so tight knit and loving, but they’re not without their flaws and intricacies, which I liked. Whilst the overarching message is quite political and addresses police brutality, the novel also shows the strength of a united community, family and bonds that go beyond blood. Thomas doesn’t mince her words, she puts across a firm message and it is the right balance, I personally didn’t find it heavy handed or overdone.
One theme I found compelling was the way in which Starr adopts a very specific behaviour whilst at her school, adjusting her language and her behaviour in comparison to when she is back home. I feel like this ‘assimilation’ of sorts is very reflective of what many people of colour face in different spaces and the micro aggressions Starr experiences – often at the hands of her ‘friends’ – shine light on this much overlooked issue. Thomas herself words it so well: “You have to figure out who you are, where you are.”
I know some people will find the subject matter ‘controversial’ or may find certain parts uncomfortable to read. As a non black person of colour, I found whilst I couldn’t relate to all of the references and of course am not subject to the same experience that black men and women face , I did feel a strong kinship and could relate to certain elements of the characters and their journeys. I feel like it would be wrong to say I ‘enjoyed’ this novel, it is tough and gritty and I honestly wish that the events that inspired this book never happened, it is horrible and heartbreaking. But this is reality, they do happen, and it needs to be talked about, through art, like this piece of literature, we ensure this happens.
It may make you evaluate your own stance and prejudices, assess your own privilege, or maybe you’ll dislike it. Nevertheless Thomas’s novel and Starrs story is one that needs to be told, it will open your mind and leave you moved. Read it before making a judgement and see how you feel. I encourage you to form your own opinions and thoughts always.
Until next time,