Summary: Chapter 3

The police leave Khalil’s body in the street, and Starr feels sick as she watches police officers comfort One-Fifteen. Starr’s parents, Maverick and Lisa, bring her home.

Starr remembers playing in the street with Natasha and getting caught in a gang-related shooting. Starr fell into a rose bush but survived. Natasha died. Natasha and Khalil’s deaths blur together in Starr’s mind.

Over breakfast, Lisa offers Starr regular bacon, and Maverick complains about pork in his house because the Nation of Islam avoids it. Seven reveals that King, the leader of the King Lords, has moved in with Seven’s mother, Iesha.

Starr recounts the shooting and emphasizes that Khalil was unarmed. Starr worries about facing backlash if news leaks that she witnessed Khalil’s death. Her parents agree to let her keep it secret and decide not to tell Sekani, Starr’s younger brother. Starr swore she would speak out against police brutality, but now she cannot bring herself to speak up.

Starr ponders the similarities between herself and Will, the protagonist of her favorite TV show, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” After Natasha’s death, Lisa sent Starr and her siblings to Williamson, just like how Will moved to Bel-Air after trouble in his neighborhood. Unlike Will, Starr must separate her Garden Heights and Williamson selves. She cannot even invite her Williamson friends to her house.

Starr and Maverick open the family’s store for the day. Mr. Lewis, the barber, arrives and rekindles an old argument with Maverick over replacing the photo of Martin Luther King Jr. with one of Huey Newton, the founder of the Black Panther Party. Mr. Lewis blames Khalil for his death because he dealt drugs. Other Garden Heights residents arrive, including Mrs. Rooks. Mrs. Rooks asks Maverick to help Ms. Rosalie, Khalil’s grandmother, pay for Khalil’s funeral. Mrs. Rooks comments on how beautiful Starr is, and Maverick jokes Starr can’t date until she’s forty. Starr hasn’t told Maverick about her boyfriend, Chris, because she knows Maverick wouldn’t approve of her dating a white boy.

Starr and Kenya get lunch at Mr. Reuben’s barbeque restaurant. Mr. Reuben often gives students free food. King drives up and offers Kenya and Starr money, calling Starr his goddaughter. Starr refuses money from him on principle. Maverick arrives. King asks Maverick to hold a package of drugs for him, but Maverick refuses. He reminds King that after going to jail in King’s stead, Maverick owes him nothing. Maverick warns King not to hurt Seven. King tells Maverick not to cross him.

Summary: Chapter 4

Starr jolts awake from a nightmare about Khalil and Natasha. She creeps to the kitchen. Lisa and Maverick argue with Starr’s uncle Carlos. Uncle Carlos, a police officer, wants Starr to testify to the police about the shooting. Lisa worries that Starr needs to recover from her trauma. Maverick worries the police want to justify Khalil’s death. Uncle Carlos insists the shooting wasn’t about race because Khalil was a drug dealer who threatened One-Fifteen. He asks Lisa why they still live in Garden Heights and why Starr was in the car with a drug dealer. Maverick doesn’t want to leave Garden Heights, but Lisa remarks that Starr has lost two friends to shootings. Uncle Carlos asks if Lisa and Maverick will let Starr testify. Lisa explains that they don’t want anyone to know Starr witnessed the shooting. Uncle Carlos swears to protect her. Maverick grumbles that he’s not sure he can trust Uncle Carlos.

Starr steps on a creaky floorboard, and Lisa alerts the men to Starr’s presence. Uncle Carlos asks if Starr will talk to the police and promises she won’t have to see One-Fifteen. Starr agrees.

Starr asks Maverick why he and Uncle Carlos always fight. Maverick explains that Uncle Carlos used to think Maverick was a bad influence. Starr and her family lived with Uncle Carlos while Maverick was in prison, so Uncle Carlos is like a second father to Starr. Maverick tells Starr she was born soon after his cousin died during a drug deal. Starr was a light during a dark time, so he named her Starr. Starr asks Maverick if he believes the police want justice. Maverick says that they will see.

Starr accompanies her parents to Ms. Rosalie’s house, which is full of memories. Ms. Rosalie tells Starr that Khalil never had another friend like Starr. Ms. Rosalie explains that Khalil wanted to talk to Maverick because he had been selling drugs. The confirmation that Khalil had been dealing hits Starr hard. Furious that Khalil sold the same drugs that addicted his mother, Starr worries that Khalil’s dealing will overshadow every report of his death now that he’s a “hashtag.” Nevertheless, when Ms. Rosalie tells Starr she is glad Starr was with Khalil at the end, Starr decides that no matter what the world thinks of him, Khalil was loved. Maverick gives Ms. Rosalie money to help with the funeral and cancer treatment.

Analysis: Chapters 3 & 4

Maverick’s Black Power philosophy influences Starr’s home life and introduces the reader to the values expected of her. Maverick’s values dominate his spaces, from the photos of his intellectual idols in his house and grocery store, to his tattoos that proclaim Starr, Seven, and Sekani to be his priority. Not only is Maverick loud about his beliefs, but he is unapologetic, not reacting to Nana or Mr. Lewis’s criticism of his photos. In light of Maverick’s example, Starr’s disappointment over feeling unable to speak up for Khalil reveals Starr’s fear that she’s failed to live up to Maverick’s Black Power philosophy. Starr’s shame at showing fragility stands in stark contrast to both her father’s unflinching confidence and the photo of Malcolm X with the gun. Starr thinks that weakness is contrary to the values of Black Power, and she views her reasonable fears as emblematic of that weakness.

Read more about how Maverick and Uncle Carlos are different father figures for Starr. 

Nevertheless, Thomas hints that Starr’s fear and grief do not actually let Maverick down, and her family will give her room to grow. Lisa offers Starr the option of eating regular bacon instead of turkey bacon, violating a part of The Nation of Islam’s tenets, because Lisa wants to offer Starr something comforting after her ordeal. Maverick gripes but does not actually object, signaling that it’s OK for Starr not to perfectly match his ideals, especially in a time of grief. In addition, Maverick’s nurturing comes out when he tends to his garden and insists that a garden needs conversation to grow. A conversation is a two-way means of communication, not a lecture or monologue. Maverick’s tender care signals that he, despite his loudness, does not want to be a domineering figure in his children’s lives. He wants to allow his children, like his roses, space to grow. We see this in practice when Maverick doesn’t force Starr to talk about the shooting.

Read more about Maverick’s roses as a symbol.

Starr’s flashback to Natasha’s death complicates our understanding of Starr’s grief and fear because Khalil’s death signals that attending Williamson did not make Starr’s life safer. Now Starr has lost two best friends, each one killed by violence in her community, and in both cases, Starr narrowly escaped becoming a victim herself. Lisa addressed the gang issue by sending Starr to Williamson, but this move could not address the dangers of the police. One-Fifteen shot Khalil because he believed that Khalil being black made him dangerous. Therefore, racism against black people put Starr in danger during Khalil’s murder, not Garden Heights or the type of blackness associated with Garden Heights. Williamson cannot keep Starr safe because existing as a black girl in a racist society is not safe. Some of her fear comes from the realization that distancing herself from life in Garden Heights did not actually protect her.

Read more about the cyclical nature of racialized poverty as a theme. 

Chapter Three introduces the way Garden Heights residents look out for each other’s welfare, breaking the stereotype of it being a bleak, dangerous neighborhood. In fact, the dangers of Garden Heights create a situation in which neighbors bond together. Business owners take an active interest in the community, like Mr. Reuben, who rewards good students, encouraging them toward the academic achievement not expected in poor neighborhoods. While Starr must minimize her poverty around her Williamson friends, the residents of Garden Heights treat poverty as a condition to be alleviated, not to be ashamed of, as with Mrs. Rooks’s immediate action to raise money for Khalil’s family. However, not all help in Garden Heights is genuine. King offers Starr money because he expects Maverick to help him hide a drug shipment, showcasing the way he mimics the genuine generosity of other Garden Heights residents for his own devices.

Read more about Garden Heights as a symbol.

Maverick and Uncle Carlos’s argument sets up an important dichotomy between them that maps directly onto Starr’s two worlds. Maverick is the Garden Heights father, who prioritizes a vision of blackness that operates independently from white people. Uncle Carlos is the Williamson father, who through his life in a gated community and employment as a cop has assimilated into whiteness. Their clashes throughout the novel evoke two different expressions of being black. They also map onto the two sources of violence in Garden Heights: Maverick as a former gang member and Uncle Carlos as a police officer. At this juncture, the clear animosity between them and their separate worldviews seem irreconcilable, emphasized by their being tied with the separate worlds of Garden Heights and the suburbs. However, the clear love Maverick and Uncle Carlos feel for Starr represents the potential for both these kinds of blackness to form who Starr will be.

The difficult visit to Khalil’s family introduces the way stereotypes of blackness flatten the complexity of black lives into caricatures. Because Starr has just overheard Uncle Carlos call Khalil dangerous, she is keenly aware that stereotyping Khalil as a drug dealer can erase his humanity even to people who knew him. She also knows it affects the way he will function as a “hashtag,” a talking point in the social media backlash against his death, because he was not a perfect victim. This framing reduces the value of Khalil’s life to his utility in the fight against police violence. Ms. Rosalie’s unconditional love for Khalil re-centers Starr’s thoughts and reminds her that nothing can make Khalil just a drug dealer or just a hashtag. Even if no one can use Khalil’s story because of the connotations of being a drug dealer, Khalil was still loved by his family and friends.

Read more about the weaponizing of racial stereotypes as a theme.