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.