Read by Bahni Turpin
Published February 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my audiobook checked out from my local library
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. Protesters 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.
I started listening to this book and then saw the movie before I was able to finish the book. That made it tough not to spend the last half of the book comparing it to the movie: "This isn't the way they did it in the movie," "This seems more realistic than this scene did in the movie," "Wait! This character wasn't even in the movie - but they did do a good job in the movie of working in the important parts of his story." Honestly, I think both the movie and the book suffered for my having seen the movie in the middle of listening to the book.
The book is not as emotionally manipulative as is the movie. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the movie and it did need to say in just two hours what the book got 464 pages to say. I appreciated the slower pace of the book, the chance to get to know the characters better and Turpin's narration, which really made me feel like Starr was telling me her story.
Thomas gives readers so much to think about in this book - race, privilege, code-switching, the ways in which people use situations for their own benefit, the way people can become radicalized. Importantly, while she has written a book for young people, this is a book that speaks to people of all ages, of all colors. And while the message is clear, Thomas doesn't let African-Americans off entirely, calling out a culture where "snitching" is taboo.
Pop culture plays a big role in this book, especially Harry Potter and the music of Tupac Shakur, from whom the book takes its title. These references don't feel like merely a way to capture reader's attention; instead Thomas uses them in ways that advance the story. In one memorable scene, Thomas argues that the houses of Hogwarts are gangs:
“They have their own colours, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron and Hermione never snitch on each other, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldemort. They’re scared to say his name. Really, that “He Who Shall Not Be Named” stuff is like giving him a street name. That’s some gangbanging right there.”I love that and I certainly came away from the book with a new appreciation of Shakur's music. And a new way of thinking about Hogwarts!
The book wasn't as visceral an experience for me as having the whole story told to me in two hours in a darkened theater was. But I just as much moved by the story and came away feeling like Thomas has told a story that can open people's eyes and make people think in a way that is universally appealing. I hope it works.