Summary: Chapter 16
A limo picks Starr up for the television interview Ms. Ofrah arranged with a reporter named Diane Carey. People in the neighborhood offer words of support when they see Starr. She likes that people now recognize her as “Starr” and not “Big Mav’s daughter.”
With Ms. Ofrah and the Carters watching, the interview begins. Diane asks about who Khalil was as a person. Starr describes his humor, his big heart, and his optimism. As she talks, she can feel his presence with her. She emphasizes that he was not a bad person, just a kid. When asked how she feels when people focus on his drug dealing, Starr says that it hurts, and that people would not judge him if they knew his situation. Ms. Ofrah shakes her head because Starr is not supposed to talk about the drugs. In addition, saying more could anger King. Nevertheless, Starr resolves to defend Khalil. She explains Brenda owed money to the biggest drug dealer and gang leader in the neighborhood.
Although Starr has not named King, she knows that this “dry snitching” still puts her in danger. She tells Diane that Khalil was not a gang member, but that it shouldn’t matter if he were, and argues that Khalil shouldn’t be charged for his own murder. Starr talks about her fear the night of the murder and adds that she and Khalil never threatened or cursed at One-Fifteen. She cries as she says that Khalil checked on her before One-Fifteen shot him. Diane asks Starr if she is afraid of cops. Starr invokes her Uncle Carlos, but says she wants the police to stop making assumptions about black people that get black people killed. Finally, Diane asks what Starr would say to One-Fifteen if he were there. Starr says she would ask whether he wishes he’d shot her too.
Summary: Chapter 17
Starr’s interview becomes one of the most-watched features on the network and trends online. The night after it airs, Starr goes to prom with Chris, who acts distant. When they reach the dance floor, Chris leaves her to go talk with his friends. Bewildered, Starr finds Maya. Hailey has been ignoring both of them after learning Maya told Starr the real reason why Hailey unfollowed her Tumblr. Starr and Maya dance with their friends. Hailey walks right past them, glaring.
When Starr starts to eat, Chris comes over and brusquely asks Starr if she wants to take pictures. Starr asks why he’s been acting strange, and Chris asks why she has an attitude. Starr storms out to the car, but Chris follows her. Chris wants to know why Starr never told him she was the witness. He saw the Diana Carey interview, and although the interview doesn’t show her face, he’d recognized her voice. Chris is hurt that there’s an aspect of Starr’s life she’s hidden from him. Starr explains that she’s afraid of people judging her for coming from “the ghetto.” Chris wants to know why she doesn’t trust him enough to give him the chance to prove her wrong. She finally tells Chris about Natasha and about how her family used to live in a one-bedroom apartment in the projects. She explains that Khalil had been her best friend, her first crush, and her first kiss. She’s tired of the way people who knew what happened treated her like she was fragile, but being with Chris made her feel normal, and she wanted to preserve that. Chris apologizes. They kiss, and Chris tells her he loves her. Starr responds in kind.
Back inside the dance, Starr and Chris dance with Maya and her boyfriend. Chris goes up to the DJ and has him play the theme from the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” He raps along, and Starr joins in, deliriously happy. She doesn’t think about Khalil or Natasha.
Analysis: Chapters 16 & 17
People now recognize Starr as independent from Maverick because they see Starr as a hero helping the community in her own right. Everyone in Garden Heights knows Maverick because Maverick’s store is a beloved business that anchors the community, and he has a reputation for helping people. For example, Mrs. Rooks asks Maverick about donating money for Khalil’s funeral because she figured he would help. When Starr avoided Garden Heights, people only knew her in relation to Maverick. Because word about Starr’s testimony has spread, people now see her fighting for justice. As Maverick explained, speaking out for Khalil means helping break the cycle of Thug Life for the whole community. Therefore, Garden Heights now sees Starr as someone fighting for all of them, not just the daughter of their dependable neighbor.
Starr’s interview with Diana Carey works to undo the damage caused by One-Fifteen’s father’s interview, but leaves Starr vulnerable. Just as One-Fifteen’s father focused on portraying One-Fifteen as an upstanding family man, Starr foregrounds the teenage boy that she knew and loved, emphasizing his sense of humor and his youth to dispel the thug image she knows the audience might have in their minds. She also introduces Khalil’s circumstances which she knows complicate people’s assumptions about what a drug dealer is and why someone would deal drugs. However, this interview has grave consequences for Starr as she puts herself in danger by indirectly mentioning King, which highlights how much Starr risks by advocating for Khalil, unlike One-Fifteen’s father, who only faced ridicule on Twitter. Thomas uses the language of boxing to describe Starr’s talking points, showing that despite the danger and emotional fallout, Starr has competed and scored a rhetorical triumph, likely changing some minds.
Hailey ignoring Starr and Maya emphasizes how Hailey’s whiteness functions to center herself in relationships and how she refuses to acknowledge the racial realities Starr and Maya face. Hailey’s anger at Maya for telling Starr about the Tumblr shows that she worries more about whether she appears racist than whether she hurt Starr’s feelings. Hailey’s dismissive attitude when Maya brings up the cat incident further highlights her lack of compassion. When Maya tells Starr about the cat incident, Starr does not try and explain why she didn’t intervene, but instead promises Maya she will not let Hailey get away with that again because Starr cares about Maya. That Starr and Maya have a perfectly great prom night without Hailey demonstrates that their friendship does not require Hailey’s leadership.
The tensions between Starr and Chris finally come to a head, but Chris proves that his love for Starr can withstand difficult conversations. Instead of shutting down Starr’s fears and deflecting, like Hailey, Chris asks to know more about the difficult parts of Starr’s blackness and poverty and listens without interjecting. He apologizes for giving Starr the cold shoulder instead of talking to her about his concerns, taking responsibility for the hurt he directly caused. Chris proves that Starr can trust him with her whole self and wants to work through difficult conversations. When Chris raps their song, Starr does not flinch away this time because Chris has proven that he will listen to her experiences as a black girl, and Starr does not need to lump Chris into the same category as One-Fifteen.