There are some books to which I have a very special connection. Harry Potter was the first series I read when I was 10 years old. Lord of the Rings helped me through the awkward days of being the new kid in a new city at a new school. If Frodo could journey to Mordor to destroy the ring, then surely I could make some friends in my Chemistry class.
Books have been there for me when I needed them. They have shaped me as a human being, and I like to think that’s one of the many reasons I love to write and teach. There is so much of my life that I owe to books, and I thought that as an almost 30 year old, there might not be another book that would transform me like those of my formative years. Sure, I’ve read some FANTASTIC books that have given me EPIC book hangovers, but I never thought I would find the same transcendent magic that I experienced as a child and a teenager. I thought that because I’m older and I know how books work, I can appreciate them, I can learn from them, but they wouldn’t CHANGE me.
Well, I was wrong.
I’m not gonna lie, the cover caught my eye. I teach at a high school that is populated with mostly African American students, and I’m always on the lookout for books that feature African American protagonists. Seeing the main character on the front made me stop, and reading the front cover made me buy it. Here is a synopsis from the front cover:
“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor black neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between 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, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. 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 destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.
Angie Thomas’s searing debut about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honestly.”
It’s written in first person from the POV of the main character, Starr. As she tells her story, she does it in a way that will make you laugh even when you know you should be crying. She is a teenager who experiences normal teenage things alongside the awful tragedies and injustices that are part of her everyday life. It’s dark subject matter that doesn’t shy away from anything, but Thomas doesn’t let you forget that Starr is teenager with a witty sense of humor who is fluent in sarcasm. The plot is perfectly paced, the setting feels real, and the characters are human. It feels so real, and it perfectly captures the nuances of being a teenager while also tackling the unique challenges that white people don’t have to face everyday.
This book. THIS BOOK you guys. This is a book the whole WORLD should read. It changed me, shook me, made me question myself and my world. It made me a better teacher, a better mom, and a better human being. It’s a book that was desperately needed, especially with the current state of police brutality and politics. I challenge anyone of any political or social background to read it. There’s a lesson for everyone because it truly puts you in the shoes of someone who is deeply affected by these incidents, and it resonates with some part of any audience. It’s been #1 on the NYT Bestseller’s List for over 30 WEEKS. There’s a reason for that.