At Uncle Carlos’s house, Sekani runs to his bike, which he keeps with Uncle Carlos. Nana asks Starr if she’s OK and assures her that if she isn’t, she will be because they are strong. Starr doesn’t believe her.

Chris comes over to check on Starr and apologize. Starr reluctantly tells him that the condom isn’t why she’s upset, but she’s not ready to talk about the real reason. Chris feels it’s unfair for Starr to ignore him without explanation. Starr explains that it’s because Chris is white and rich, and she is black and poor. Chris insists that he doesn’t care. Starr rebuts that they are important parts of her identity. Chris asks Starr to explain what she means because he wants to fix things. Starr misses him and how normal he makes her feel. She decides not to tell Chris that she witnessed Khalil’s murder.

Analysis: Chapter 9

Starr’s immediate judgement of DeVante parallels the media’s immediate judgement of Khalil, which implies Starr is wrong about DeVante. When Starr learns that DeVante is a King Lord drug dealer, she connects him to violent and abusive King. Her instant mental leap from King Lord to abuser parallels the media using “drug dealer” as shorthand for violent. However, DeVante does not act violent. He protects Seven and Starr from the Garden Disciples despite the maxim that gang members only care about their own. DeVante’s grief over Dalvin’s death complicates Starr’s understanding of why he’s in the park. While he initially says he’s dealing drugs, DeVante mentions his grief after Seven offers condolences, suggesting that drug dealing may also be a smokescreen of toughness to hide his vulnerability. DeVante and Khalil both possess more complexity than the drug dealer or gang member stereotypes offer them.

Throughout Chapter Nine, Starr blames herself for both the police’s inaction and the violent fallout, implying that she has taken on responsibility for things too large for her to change. This misplaced guilt plays into the theme of adults’ refusal to take responsibility for their actions hurting children and teenagers. As a teenage girl, Starr cannot possibly shoulder the burden of all the neighborhood’s hurt, nor can she change the minds of a legal system determined to protect its own. Therefore, when Lisa tells Starr the anecdote about her birth, the comparison between a pregnancy and the unjust legal system highlights the complete lack of power and control Starr has over the situation. Just as Lisa had direct power over very few factors in her pregnancy, Starr only has the power to tell the truth, which she has already done. Lisa’s encouragement to continue “doing right” emphasizes that Starr can only keep doing her best with the things she can control.

The effects of violence and gangs on black childhood play a major role in this chapter. Starr and Seven face punishment from their parents not because of normal parental strictness, but because of the riots and violence in the neighborhood. Black childhood is disrupted by different forms of violence, including police brutality, gang violence, and the fallout of both. Starr, Seven, and Sekani know immediately to duck for the bullets that interrupt their dinner, signifying that this kind of interruption is common enough that they know what to do. All the gang members at Rose Park are teenagers whose gang connections mean they spend their Saturday mornings selling drugs or robbing others instead of actually partaking in teenage activities. The contrast between Lisa’s terror at Starr and Seven, both older teenagers, running off to play basketball in Garden Heights, and her complete comfort with Sekani, only nine, running off to ride his bike in Uncle Carlos’s neighborhood emphasizes the kind of carefree adolescence withheld from the children of Garden Heights.

Starr’s unwillingness to talk about Khalil with Chris demonstrates how her new understanding of white supremacy threatens the fantasy of normalcy Chris has come to represent for her. Before Khalil’s death the biggest issue in their relationship revolved around sex, common for teenage relationships. Starr’s realization that dating a white boy automatically takes on a political cast—because of race—indicates a more complicated, less universal problem. In addition, if Chris learns about Khalil, Starr will have to open up about the difficult aspects of being black, which she fears Chris will judge her for. Starr knows addressing either of these issues will change their relationship irrevocably, and if their relationship changes, she will no longer feel like a normal teenager in her relationship with Chris. On a symbolic level, Starr bringing Chris into Uncle Carlos’s house functions as a reminder of the kind of blackness Starr allows Chris to see. Uncle Carlos has largely assimilated into whiteness and lives in the same neighborhood as Chris, so his house represents a blackness easy for Chris to understand.