There are just some places where it’s not enough to be me. Either version of me.

Starr begins the novel conflicted by the two sides of her life: her home in the poor, primarily Black neighborhood of Garden Heights and the wealthy, primarily white world of Williamson Prep. While at Big D’s party, Starr keenly feels that she’s lost her connection with her peers in Garden Heights. Her behavior causes Kenya to accuse her of being stuck up. However, Starr knows that at Williamson she’ll be judged if she acts too angry. Starr doesn’t feel like either part of herself truly belongs in her social spaces, but she also doesn’t know how to reconcile both halves.

If it’s revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer?

When Hailey and Maya first ask Starr if she knew Khalil, Hailey refers to him as a drug dealer. Her quickness to refer to Khalil as just “the drug dealer” emphasizes to Starr that even her friends at Williamson Prep are unlikely to extend empathy to Khalil. Worse, she realizes that her very association with Khalil could cause them to treat her differently. Starr decides to lie about knowing Khalil to keep her life at school the same as it used to be.

This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us, feels like us, and is experiencing this pain with us despite not knowing me or Khalil. My silence isn’t helping Us.

Starr comes to this realization after her conversation with Maverick about THUG LIFE. Through this conversation, Starr concludes that the injustice surrounding Khalil’s drug dealing, death, and the narrative reported about them both are part of a larger system that affects not just her or Garden Heights, but other similar Black communities. At this moment, she decides that speaking up about witnessing Khalil’s death has the potential to help fight the system that creates THUG LIFE and she begins her journey toward activism.

“My name is Starr. I’m the one who saw what happened to Khalil,” I say into the bullhorn. “And it wasn’t right.”

Starr takes the megaphone at a protest against the grand jury verdict in a crucial moment of self-actualization and activism. At the beginning of the novel, Starr doesn’t want anyone to know that she witnessed Khalil’s murder because she’s afraid of retaliation and judgment. By beginning her statement at the protest with her name and relationship to Khalil, she demonstrates that she’s no longer afraid of speaking the truth of what happened. She is willing to stand up for Khalil, for herself, and for Black lives despite the very real dangers in doing so.

I was ashamed of Garden Heights and everything in it. It seems stupid now though. I can’t change where I come from or what I’ve been through, so why should I be ashamed of what makes me, me? That’s like being ashamed of myself.

Starr has this thought at the very end of the novel after Kenya accuses her of having been embarrassed by her life in Garden Heights in front of her Williamson friends. Instead of getting defensive, Starr becomes self-reflective, indicative of her significant growth. At the beginning of the novel Starr does judge Kenya and others from Garden Heights because she is aware of how her life in Garden Heights appears to her friends at Williamson. Here Starr fully accepts her Garden Heights upbringing as something important that has shaped her.