The protagonist and narrator of the novel. Starr is a sixteen-year-old Black high school student who spends her life divided between the poor, primarily black neighborhood of Garden Heights and Williamson Prep, a wealthy, primarily white school. Starr is analytical and sharp, but because she narrates events as she experiences them, her emotions are immediate and unfiltered. Traumatized after witnessing the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil, Starr blames herself for not being there for Khalil prior to his death. As Starr gains the courage to testify at the grand jury hearing for One-Fifteen and grapples with how being black affects all aspects of her life, she grows more outspoken, refusing to accept the way racism hurts her.
Starr’s childhood best friend who is shot by One-Fifteen during a traffic stop. After Khalil’s death, rumors spread that Khalil dealt drugs and participated in the King Lords gang, placing his character in question. However, Starr remembers Khalil primarily as the sweet friend she knew growing up. Kenya and DeVante attest that Khalil often spoke fondly of Starr, and that he cared about her very much. Toward the end of the novel, DeVante reveals that Khalil took great care of his family and only sold drugs to pay off his mother’s debt to King.
Maverick “Big Mav” Carter
Starr, Seven, and Sekani’s father, an outspoken and philosophical man who runs a small grocery store in Garden Heights. Despite his dark past as a member of the King Lords gang and a short stint in prison, Maverick is an engaged father who devotes himself fully to his family and his neighborhood. Maverick inspires Starr by educating her on Black Power philosophy, but he struggles with balancing his values of Black liberation with the reality that those values put him and his family in danger. His strong beliefs often get him into arguments with Uncle Carlos, who helped care for Maverick’s children while Maverick was in prison.
Mother to Starr and Sekani, and step-mother to Seven. Lisa is a nurse and a loving but firm mother. Although she comes off as strict, Lisa has a compassionate heart and teaches the importance of forgiveness and second chances. She fiercely protects her children and always reminds her husband, Maverick, not to push the children too far into dangerous activism.
Starr’s maternal uncle, a police officer. Uncle Carlos served as a father figure in Starr’s life, particularly while Maverick was in prison. With his job as a police officer and a home in a suburban, gated community, Uncle Carlos assimilates into the white community, and encourages Lisa to do the same with her family, leading to conflict with Maverick.
Starr’s older half-brother, son of Maverick and Iesha. Seven is the oldest of the Carter children and fiercely protects all his siblings. He worries particularly for Kenya and Lyric, his half-sisters through Iesha, because of their dangerous home environment with King.
Starr’s boyfriend, a wealthy white boy from Williamson Prep. The two initially bonded over a love of the television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Chris often raps the theme song to make Starr smile. Chris adores Starr and tries to make her feel comfortable being her entire self around him, which Starr struggles with throughout the novel.
Starr’s friend from Williamson Prep, a wealthy, white teenage girl who feels uncomfortable when confronted with the racism affecting Starr’s life. In the past, Hailey expected Starr and Maya to go along with her dictates, and finds Starr’s new outspokenness threatening.
The leader of the King Lords gang. King profits off the drug dealings in Garden Heights, but does not care about the community, threatening elderly men and teenagers alike to protect his hold over the neighborhood. King abuses his girlfriend, Iesha, and daughters, Kenya and Lyric.
The white police officer who shoots and kills Khalil. Although the media portrays him as a caring father and good police officer, One-Fifteen lies to his colleagues about the events of the night of Khalil’s death. Throughout the novel, One-Fifteen represents systemic racism and corruption in law enforcement.
A Black teenage boy from Garden Heights and member of the King Lords gang. DeVante attempts to leave the King Lords after King gives him an assignment that DeVante knows will lead to his own death. Despite his cocky exterior, DeVante cares deeply for his family and others. He has a crush on Kenya.
Starr’s friend from Garden Heights and Seven’s half-sister through Iesha. Kenya is assertive and calls Starr out for not spending as much time with people in Garden Heights since Starr started going to Williamson Prep. Kenya also urges Starr to speak out on behalf of Khalil.
The neighborhood barber, an older Black man and resident of Garden Heights. Mr. Lewis loudly complains about the effects of gang violence in the neighborhood and often clashes with Maverick because of Maverick’s past membership in the King Lords. The King Lords later beat up Mr. Lewis after he betrays King on television.
A close friend of Starr and Hailey’s at Williamson Prep. Maya is the peacekeeper of the trio, always trying to get Starr and Hailey to communicate. After Maya confesses that Hailey made racist comments about Maya’s Asian American heritage, Starr and Maya form an alliance to fight Hailey’s racism.
Starr’s lawyer, a community organizer who leads Just Us for Justice. She encourages Starr to use her voice for activism.
Mother to Seven, Kenya, and Lyric, a sex worker who is dating King. Iesha puts her relationship with King over the safety of her children, but she is also a victim of King’s abuse.
Starr’s younger brother. Maverick and Lisa protect Sekani from a lot of the dangers around him and Sekani maintains a childish innocence throughout the novel.
Starr’s childhood friend who was shot by accident at the age of ten during a gang-related shootout in Garden Heights.
Khalil’s loving grandmother who often looked after Starr and Sekani when they were young.
Khalil’s mother, a drug addict who was often absent during Khalil’s childhood.
Seven’s youngest half-sister.
Hailey’s brother who starts a protest at Williamson to get out of class.