If you follow my Instagram, you know that on Fridays, I post pictures featuring a YA debut novel from past years. I’ve been doing this for almost a month now, and I want to spend more time writing reviews and posting blog posts, so welcome to a new series: FLASHBACK DEBUT FRIDAY.
Release Date: February 28th, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protestors are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
“Funerals aren’t for dead people. They’re for the living.
I doubt Khalil cares what songs are sung or what the preacher says about him. He’s in a casket. Nothing can change that.”
It should go without saying that there’s a reason why Angie Thomas’s YA debut, The Hate U Give, has remained as the number-one bestseller on the New York Time’s YA Hardcover List for 78 weeks. 78 WEEKS, if you missed that. There’s a reason why she has won numerous prestigious awards for this novel, why it went into a 13-house bidding war, why it was optioned for film before it was even made into a movie. And many of these are the same reasons why it receives the backlash it does, why school districts try to ban it from their libraries.
This novel makes people uncomfortable because it’s unflinchingly honest. It is a blunt portrayal of the aftermath of police brutality, when someone was killed when they were unarmed. It talks about racism, ignorance, and why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. It is a novel that changes lives.
Starr’s narration is blunt and honest. She walks you through her two lives, the person she is at her prep school, and the person she is at home. For me, this novel succeeds at so many levels because of her voice; it’s familiar and real, and even if you aren’t black, you still relate to what she’s saying.
This book is emotionally heavy. It’s chock-full of grief. But as Starr begins her journey towards standing up not only for herself but for her community, too, for Khalil, for others who have lost their lives to police brutality, her family is a shining gem. So much of her character arc relies on her family, especially the relationships with her father, and her uncle, who is a cop. There are so many tender, loving, humorous moments that make this book shine, and seriously, THANK GOODNESS SOMEONE FINALLY WROTE A YA NOVEL WHERE THE PARENTS ARE PRESENT. (It’s one of my biggest YA pet peeves, I think, but that’s for another time.)
Along the lines of heavy material, we also see Starr confront racism at her school. Her best friend, Hailey, doesn’t understand why certain things she says to Starr are offensive. This is something that made me pause and do a lot of self-reflection. It made me uncomfortable, because you can not be racist and say racist things. It’s a small part of the novel in comparison to other things, but that friendship is another important growth arc for Starr.
But one of the things that made me pause the longest is that I’ve read a lot of reviews about this novel implying that this book is anti-police. And, honestly, I have to disagree. This book doesn’t teach teach teenagers to fear police. Starr’s relationship with her uncle is so important BECAUSE he’s a cop, BECAUSE he’s also trying to balance two worlds, and BECAUSE there are good cops out there. But there is also a whole lot of racism, and a whole lot of police brutality.
This book talks about a lot of important things. It made uncomfortable, it made me cry, it made me angry, it made me happy, it reminded me that teenagers are capable of incredible things, and that grief is something no one should have to go through alone.
All in all, this is a beautiful debut. I’ve already read twice, and I imagine that I will read it again someday soon. I’m so excited for Angie Thomas, for all of the good she’s doing, for putting her own voice out there and contributing to the conversation.
Anyone else excited/scared for the movie? I feel like I’ll have to go alone and sit in the back so I can cry in peace. It’s going to be an emotional journey, but I’m so ready.