Last Updated on March 5, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 777
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is at Big D's spring break party in her home neighborhood of Garden Heights with her friend Kenya. Kenya and Starr share a brother, Seven: Starr's father is his father, and Kenya's mother is his mother. Starr's family owns a general store in Garden Heights, and Starr goes to Williamson Prep, a different school to others at the party. Kenya protests that Starr should have dressed up.
Starr's boyfriend, Chris, texts apologizing and wanting to talk, but Starr doesn't answer. Kenya meets some friends and wanders off, leaving Starr alone. A handsome boy, Khalil, whom she's known all her life, approaches and hugs her. They're talking when gunshots ring out, and Khalil leads Starr out to his car. After Starr has texted to check if Kenya is all right, Khalil asks where she wants to be taken. They sit in the car talking for a while; Chris texts again while Khalil and Starr reminisce about their childhood. Then the blue lights of police cars appear.
Starr remembers being told as a child to do whatever a cop says if she's stopped; she hopes Khalil will do the same. Khalil, however, argues, asking why he's been pulled over, so the cop, who is white, makes him get out of the car. Starr notes that the cop’s badge reads “one-fifteen” and begins to refer to him by his badge number. A scuffle ensues, and One-Fifteen shoots Khalil. Starr screams, getting out of the car; One-Fifteen points his gun at her, so she puts her hands up. Khalil is dead.
Starr is sitting in an ambulance when her parents arrive; her mother, Lisa, is a nurse and is in scrubs. On the way home, they have to stop so Starr can throw up. She is covered in blood and has nightmares that night, remembering her friend Natasha, who was killed six years earlier in a drive-by shooting.
The next day, Starr doesn't want to go to school, having slept badly. Seven and their little brother, Sekani, are both at breakfast, although Seven lives with his mother, Iesha, and her husband, King, Kenya's father. Seven asks why Khalil was shot, and Starr says there was no reason.
Starr realizes her school, Williamson Prep, which is mostly white, is a different world to the majority-Black neighborhood she lives in. That day, Starr goes to the store with her father. The barber from next door, Mr. Lewis, asks about Khalil. The usual customers come into the store, and later Kenya comes in and takes Starr aside to talk about Khalil, who used to work in the store.
Kenya says she fought the night before with a girl named Denasia over a boy named DeVante. The girls go to get lunch, and on the way back, King arrives in a BMW and tries to give them some money. Starr refuses it, and her father, Big Mav, comes out to support his daughter. He tells King not to touch Seven again.
King tells Seven to get in his car, and they drive off.
The opening chapters of this novel establish the world in which the protagonist, Starr Carter, is living. Thomas makes it very clear that this is a world of violence and that the violence is often completely senseless. Starr lives in a neighborhood where most people are poor and Black, which is a different world from Williamson Prep, the school she attends alongside white girls who are afraid to sleep over at her house because of the threat of violence and the prevalence of gunshots. In...
(This entire section contains 777 words.)
Starr's world, children can be killed for no reason by men driving past with guns; it is a world in which Starr's parents were forced to explain to her at a very young age that if she is challenged by a police officer, she should do what the officer says because the alternative might be deadly. This lesson is driven home in the second chapter of the novel, in which the handsome and charming Khalil is shot by a police officer without any provocation—simply because he wanted to know why he had been pulled over and refused to behave in a completely subservient fashion.
These opening chapters also establish the complexities of Starr's family situation, with her brother, Seven, acting as a bridge between her family and that of her friend Kenya, who is not related to her despite sharing a brother with her. Starr's father, Big Mav, is set up as a foil to Kenya's father, King, who drives a BMW and hits his children, while the money he flaunts is considered by Mav to be dirty.