Analysis: Chapter 10

The police stop at the beginning of Chapter Ten illustrates how Khalil’s murder traumatized Starr. The flashbacks and panic are classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental condition commonly associated with soldiers returning from war. Starr’s PTSD symbolizes the long-term effects of violence on the emotional well-being of black children. That Starr has a condition associated with war means that police and gang violence turn black neighborhoods into war-like zones. Moreover, Starr no longer believes Lisa’s words of comfort because Starr has lost the childhood belief in her parents’ ability to keep her safe. Starr knows that if the police stop turned violent, Lisa could not have protected her any better than Khalil, and the results would have been equally devastating. Starr’s awareness shows that black children are forced to realize their own vulnerability in the world and their parents’ inability to change that.

Maverick’s expanded understanding of Thug Life clarifies the links between the police and the gangs, and reveals how they create an interconnected cycle of racialized poverty that destroys black neighborhoods. Thomas named the novel after this cycle because it underpins Khalil’s death and the resulting fallout. When we look at Khalil’s story through Maverick’s framework, we understand that King trapped Khalil into drug dealing because Khalil lacked other economic options, while the police use Khalil’s drug dealing to justify shooting him. Maverick insists Starr cannot judge Khalil for not escaping this cycle because without support or money, it is too strong to break. This conversation marks a turning point for Starr because it demonstrates the true cost of her silence. Khalil’s death, while a tragedy in its own right, is also part of a system that hurts her entire community. Starr realizes that her silence means complicity in this cycle.

Maverick’s story about leaving gang life reveals the difficulty of breaking the cycle of Thug Life, which sets up the challenges ahead for DeVante. Maverick had to sacrifice his freedom, losing time with Starr at a young age, to ultimately break free. That Maverick was forced to go to prison symbolizes how powerful the cycle is because he was separated from his children for three years, leaving them vulnerable. The juxtaposition between Maverick’s Thug Life lecture and his decision to help DeVante emphasizes that a support system is key to breaking the cycle. DeVante cannot escape alone because he is a teenager without resources and support, but Maverick can help him because he is a responsible adult. Significantly, Maverick asks Starr to teach DeVante how to use a pricing gun, foreshadowing the change in DeVante’s life because instead of using a gun as a weapon he has a gun as a tool.

The argument between Maverick and Lisa showcases the tension between political ideals and lived experience. Maverick’s ideals uplift and inspire, but they also carry real danger. Despite the beautiful parts of Garden Heights, it is a dangerous space because of Thug Life. Lisa acts as the voice of experience because she reminds Maverick that violence compromises their children’s safety and innocence, and their ability to have normal lives. In this chapter, Starr’s PTSD supports Lisa’s perspective. Maverick has not yet learned the balance between helping his neighborhood and living out his ideals with protecting his family, another important part of his values. Lisa’s insistence that Maverick choose family over Garden Heights highlights the difficult choices black adults must make for their children due to systemic conditions of poverty and violence in their neighborhoods.