Mav plays basketball in Rose Park with his cousin, Dre; his best friend, King; and other friends, Shawn, Rico, P-Nut, and Junie. As they play, Lisa, Mav’s girlfriend, and Keisha and Andreanna, Dre’s fiancée and daughter, watch. As the friends play, Mav reflects on his life, and background information about his gang, the King Lords, is revealed. There are several levels in the King Lords. Mav and King are “li’l homies,” members who sell only weed and help with initiations. Older members, including Shawn and P-Nut, are known as “big homies” who get to sell harder drugs and fight with their rival gang, the Garden Disciples. During the game, King almost gets into a fight and leaves. With the game over, talk turns to a party later that night. Everyone plans to go except Dre, who has stopped hanging out with the gang, or “set,” since Andreanna’s birth. Mav’s mother, Faye, arrives to take Mav to the clinic to see if he is the biological father of King’s three-month-old baby.
Mav and Faye meet Iesha, King’s sometimes-girlfriend, and her mother, Ms. Robinson, at the clinic. Mav notes Iesha appears exhausted and tells her that if the baby is his, he’ll help. A nurse hands Iesha the test results: The baby, named King Jr., is his. While everyone processes the news, King Jr. starts to cry. Faye and Mav take the baby into the women’s room to change his diaper. When they emerge, both Iesha and Ms. Robinson are gone.
Faye and Mav drive to Ms. Robinson’s house, but no one answers the door, so they take King Jr. home with them. As Mav learns how to feed the baby a bottle, he realizes that his life has suddenly changed. Reluctantly, he calls Lisa to tell her that he can’t take her to the party. Later, Dre arrives and addresses Mav’s new situation head-on. He reveals that he knows Mav and King have been selling drugs behind the big homies’ backs and threatens to tell Faye if Mav doesn’t quit it all. Mav points out how it’s almost impossible to leave the gang but ultimately agrees to stop dealing.
Iesha tells Mav she needs a break, and he agrees to keep King Jr. for a while. While waiting for King to come over, Mav talks on the phone with his father, Adonis, who is in prison. When Adonis learns about King Jr., he offers support and suggests that Mav change the baby’s name to something more meaningful. King, who arrives soon after the phone call ends, insists he’s not upset that Mav is the baby’s father. Mav gives his stash of drugs to King, who then leaves.
Dre picks up Mav and King Jr. to take them to a local store owned by Mav’s neighbors, the Wyatts. While driving, Mav assures Dre that he quit dealing, and Dre warns Mav to tell Lisa about the baby before she learns about him from someone else. At the store, Mr. Wyatt, who has heard about the baby, offers Mav a part-time job working in the store and in his garden. Reluctantly, Mav accepts the job. Outside, Lisa’s best friend, Tammy, sees Mav with King Jr. Her eyes widen, and Mav knows he must tell Lisa about King Jr. before Tammy does.
Dre drives Mav straight to Lisa’s house. At first, Mav can’t get the courage to tell Lisa the news, so they just talk about school. When Mav finally tells Lisa about his one-night stand with Iesha a year before, during the time when he and Lisa were broken up, Lisa cries. At first, she’s heartbroken, but then she becomes enraged as she realizes that everyone else knew he’d slept with Iesha but her. Crying, Lisa tells Mav to leave.
Mav faces challenges on the first day of school. The night before, King Jr. cried all night from teething pain. In the morning, an exhausted Mav struggles to take care of the baby and get himself ready for school at the same time. Over breakfast, he tells Faye he wants to change the baby’s name to Seven, which he believes means “perfection.” Mav’s troubles continue at school. In the hallway, Ant, a member of the King Lords’ rival gang, the Garden Disciples, warns Mav to tell Dre to watch his back; Dre’s been racing for money on the east side, which is Garden Disciple territory. Later, Rico, Mav’s friend and a King Lord, tells Mav that his Air Jordans aren’t real, and Mav makes a mental note to confront Red, the guy who sold him the fake sneakers. After several classes, Mav ditches school to hang out with King.
Mav heads to Lisa’s school, St. Mary’s, to try to talk to Lisa, but he has no success. He and King then find Red selling fake goods on the sidewalk and confront him about the fake sneakers. When Red refuses to refund Mav, they flip his tables and leave. King then drives Mav to Mr. Wyatt’s house, where he works all afternoon planting rose bushes.
Mav has been working for Mr. Wyatt for a month. The baby, now named Seven, still lives with Mav as Iesha has left home and he doesn’t know how to find her. It’s Friday night, and instead of hanging with friends like he used to, Mav is taking care of Seven, washing laundry, and doing homework. Just after he puts Seven to bed, the doorbell rings. It’s Dre, equipped with water guns, pizza, and music. During the water gun fight, Dre’s gold watch falls off. It’s scratched but not broken, and Dre puts it back on. After they dry off, Mav and Dre eat pizza in Dre’s car while listening to the baby monitor for Seven. At one point, Bus Stop Tony, a local addict, leans in, and Dre gives him some pizza. When Seven cries, Mav goes inside to check on him, and Dre uses that time to call Keisha. As Mav puts Seven back to bed, he hears gunshots and tires squealing outside. Screaming for Dre, Mav runs outside, hoping against hope that Dre is all right. Instead, Mav finds Dre slumped over in the car, dead from a gunshot to the head. Keisha’s screams can be heard from Dre’s phone by his feet.
Dre’s body is taken away, and the police find Bus Stop Tony in the area. While the police think Tony killed Dre, Mav knows better. Tony’s an addict but not a killer. Mav highly suspects Ant, who basically told Mav that Dre was a target. Mav’s hate for Ant begins to grow. At Dre’s funeral, the King Lords wear their gang colors, black and gray, to show respect, even though Dre hadn’t been active in the gang for a while. After the service, Mav steps outside and tells the other King Lords that he thinks Ant might be the killer. When Mav says he wants to get revenge, Shawn makes him promise he’ll back off and let the big homies take care of it. Feeling disrespected and angry, Mav walks away, but he doesn’t get far. Suddenly, Lisa is there. She takes his hand and invites him on a walk.
Lisa and Mav walk to her house. Once inside, Lisa notes how bad Mav’s hair looks and offers to wash it for him. What starts out as a moment of shared comfort and friendship evolves into a moment of intimacy, and they have unprotected sex.
Mav jumps out Lisa’s window to avoid getting caught by her mother, who just got home. Over the next few days, Mav calls Lisa several times, but she’s blocked his number. While working at Wyatt’s Grocery one afternoon, Mav sees Iesha and races to catch up with her and talk about Seven. But before Mav can ask her anything, Iesha tells him she’s homeless and runs off.
Mav’s emotional struggles begin to take a toll. Mav’s teacher wants him to visit the school counselor. As she explains her idea, Ant loudly declares that Dre got what was coming to him, an insult that only solidifies Mav’s belief that Ant murdered Dre. Enraged, Mav ditches school and meets up with Shawn, who offers him a joint. After cruising around for a bit, Shawn drops Mav off at Mr. Wyatt’s to work in the garden. Noticing that Mav is high, Mr. Wyatt makes him work extra hard. After several hours of work, they sit to rest and talk. At one point, Mr. Wyatt firmly but lovingly grabs the back of Mav’s neck. This gesture seems to unlock something in Mav’s heart, and within seconds, Mav is sobbing in Mr. Wyatt’s arms.
Faye insists that Mav go to the high school football game with King, Rico, and Junie, a friend and King Lords member. While there, they notice Ant angrily staring at them from the stands. Mav wants to tell them he thinks Ant killed Dre, but intending to keep his promise to Shawn, he says nothing. Later, while Mav is at the snack stand, gunshots ring out in the parking lot. People scream and run in all directions, and Ant lays dead on the pavement.
It's three weeks after Ant’s shooting, and Mav has been working hard to live the way Dre wanted him to—clean, straight, and focused on Seven. Just as Mav is getting ready to put Seven down for a nap, the doorbell rings. It’s Lisa. Mav hasn’t seen or spoken to her since Dre’s funeral. The moment she walks through the door, Mav knows something is wrong. It’s only after they get Seven to sleep that Lisa tells Mav her news: She thinks she’s pregnant.
Mav purchases two pregnancy tests at Wyatt’s Grocery; he wants to know for sure whether Lisa is pregnant. Lisa takes both tests, and five minutes later, both read positive. Despite feeling shock and fear, Mav assures Lisa he’ll be there for her, no matter what she decides to do. When Faye gets home, she immediately knows something is wrong. After hearing the situation, Faye tells Mav it’s time for them to visit Adonis at Evergreen Prison.
It's the day before Thanksgiving, the day of the prison visit. At first, things go well, and everyone is happy to see each other. But when Mav tells Adonis he’s going to have another baby, tensions rise, arguments ensue, angry words are spoken, and Mav leaves the prison, angry with Adonis. Back in the car, Mav calls Lisa, who reveals that her mother threw her out and she’s now staying with Tammy. Before going home, Mav visits Lisa at Tammy’s to invite her to live with him. Lisa responds to his offer by explaining that not only are she and Mav not a couple, but she views him as not dependable and she needs some space.
On Thanksgiving Day, and Mav’s grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins gather at Mav’s for dinner. When King arrives, he has Iesha with him. They are a couple now and have been living together for several months. Mav feels betrayed that King never told him, because King knew Mav had been looking for Iesha to help with the baby. When Mav and Iesha start to argue about Seven, Faye takes them into a bedroom for a talk. There, she tells Iesha to give Mav legal custody of Seven and says she needs to visit Seven once a week to prove she can be trusted. Later, while King and Mav eat on the front porch, Lisa’s brother Carlos arrives, attacks Mav, and drives away.
Now back at school, Mav discovers that Shawn was arrested on Thanksgiving Day. Rico and Junie tell Mav that with Dre and Shawn gone, all the big homies are vying to be in charge of the gang. After school, Mav meets Lisa at the doctor’s office for Lisa’s first ultrasound. When it’s time to check out, Mav doesn’t have money for Lisa’ co-pay. Carlos pays the bill, which embarrasses Mav so much he makes up his mind to start dealing again.
It’s a bright February day, and sitting at Dre’s grave, Mav updates Dre on the family and set. He explains that even though P-Nut is now in charge, he, King, Rico, and Junie have been dealing behind P-Nut’s back. He also reveals that he and King are no longer best friends. Later, Mav heads to St. Mary’s to deal and ride the bus home with Lisa. As they discuss Lisa’s pregnancy, they make a bet: Lisa thinks they are having a girl, and Mav thinks it’s a boy. The loser will buy the winner Reuben’s barbecue ribs. Back at Tammy’s, a surprise awaits. Tammy’s sister, Brenda, is visiting, along with her baby and boyfriend, Red. As the group chats, Mav spots Dre’s gold watch on Red’s wrist, and he can’t believe his eyes.
Mav stares at Dre’s watch, entranced. When Red realizes Mav recognizes the watch, he abruptly leaves the house. For days, Mav thinks about nothing but Red. During one of Mav’s shifts, Mr. Wyatt encourages Mav to set goals for himself, reminding him that he can forge his own path in life. Later that afternoon, Mav tells P-Nut his suspicions about Red, but P-Nut insults Mav and blows him off. The set no longer offers Mav the safety and support it used to.
Throughout this chapter, Mav’s obsession with the idea that Red is Dre’s killer begins to interfere with his life. In fact, while meeting with the school counselor, Mav learns that his grades are so bad, he has to repeat the twelfth grade or get this GED. Overwhelmed with his need for money, Mav heads to King’s house to get drugs to sell. While at King’s, Mav opens up and tells King about Red wearing Dre’s watch and P-Nut dismissing the idea that Red could be Dre’s killer. King, disgusted with P-Nut’s lack of leadership, implies that Mav has no choice but to kill Red himself, to which Mav agrees.
Mav’s fixation on Red increases, and he decides to get a gun from King. One night, after a long day at work, Faye and Mav chat in the kitchen. He knows he’ll have to tell her about dropping out of school soon but chooses to avoid that conversation for now. Instead, it’s Faye’s turn to admit something: For several years, she’s been dating a woman, her friend Moe, and she’s in love. While it takes Mav a moment to digest the news, he responds by saying that his only concern is her happiness: If she’s happy, he’s happy.
Mav continues to avoid telling Faye that he’s flunked out of school. He pretends to go to school but instead follows Red, memorizing his daily patterns. In addition to working and tracking Red, however, Mav has arranged a surprise for Lisa: He drives her to Markham State, her first choice in colleges, for a tour of the campus. After the tour, Mav and Lisa meet Keisha, Dre’s fiancée, at a restaurant. Mav hopes to get Keisha alone to see if she heard anything or anyone the moment Dre was shot. Hesitantly, Keisha tells Mav that just before the killer arrived, she heard Bus Stop Tony asking for money. She also reveals that the killer had a raspy voice. On the drive home, Mav and Lisa get into a fight about his gang involvement.
Mav visits a crack house, trying to find Bus Stop Tony. He wants to know what Tony saw the night Dre was killed. When they finally meet up, Tony describes the car the killer drove, and the description matches Red’s car. While Mav had promised Tony drugs in exchange for the information, he gives him money instead and tells him to buy some new clothes.
The chapter opens with Mav facing some ugly truths about his father. He realizes that his father is the reason why a lot of people, including Bus Stop Tony, are addicts, their lives ruined by drugs. At the same time, he needs fatherly advice more than ever, so he drives to the prison to see Adonis. While sitting together, Mav and Adonis apologize to each other for the hurtful things each said during the last visit. They also address the fact that Faye is dating Moe. Eventually, Mav tells Adonis about Red, and instead of telling Mav what he should do, Adonis explains that Mav is a man and needs to make his own decisions.
The chapter opens two days after Mav’s visit with Adonis. He’s decided to kill Red and has the whole thing planned out. With Faye watching Seven, Mav walks toward Rose Park. He waits patiently for Red to be alone in the street. Then he walks up to Red from behind, holds the gun to his head, and makes him get down on his knees. Mav realizes that all he has left to do is pull the trigger.
The chapter consists of a single sentence that reveals that Mav does not pull the trigger.
Mav runs straight to see Lisa. As they sit on her bed, Mav sobs in her arms and tells her about Red killing Dre, him going to kill Red, and how he ultimately chose not to do it. As they talk, Lisa reminds Mav that she not only believes in him but also needs him. Mav returns home to retrieve the drug supply in the bathroom, as he plans on returning it to King. But while he is pulling the stash out from under the cabinet, some drops into the toilet. Mav panics, knowing he’ll still owe King the money for what’s gone down the drain. Early the next morning, King and Mav talk in King’s car. Mav gives King his gun back and lies, saying that Red didn’t kill Dre. Then, handing King what’s left of the stash, he explains that he’s done dealing. King, insulted that Mav is quitting and infuriated by his financial loss, points the gun in Mav’s face, making the point that he now has a score to settle with Mav.
Mav reflects on all that Mr. Wyatt has taught him about gardening, especially the fact that roses are designed to survive no matter where they are planted. Early one morning, he sees Mr. Wyatt’s roses in bloom, and he lets himself into Mr. Wyatt’s backyard to admire the garden. Mr. Wyatt soon joins him, and the two talk about school. Mav admits that he hasn’t yet told Faye about flunking out but says that he’s going to get his GED. In response to this news, Mr. Wyatt offers Mav a full-time job. Later that day, Mav finally breaks the news to Faye but keeps his promise and signs up for the GED course as well as a landscaping class. Back at home, Adonis calls, and when Mav reveals that he didn’t kill Red, Adonis seems relieved. Later that day, while they are working at the grocery store, Mr. Wyatt leaves Mav in charge. Mav knows he’s being tested, and he handles business perfectly the entire time he’s alone. When Mr. Wyatt returns, he admits that Mav’s performance surprised him. Mav realizes it’s time for him to start surprising himself.
Lisa, Mav, and Seven sit at Mav’s kitchen table eating barbecue ribs. Lisa, feeling proud, teases Mav that she won the bet: They are having a girl. As they talk about their daughter’s possible personality traits, Mav studies for his GED. Lisa asks him if he’s told anyone that he wants out of the set yet, and he admits that he hasn’t. He’s scared and worried about the consequences. As soon as Faye gets home from work, they tell her they are having a girl. Mav explains to both Lisa and Faye that he has a plan to take care of Lisa and both kids. He admits that he doesn’t have it all figured out, but he’ll start with school and working for Mr. Wyatt. He wants to prove to Lisa that she can depend on him. Later, while they are sitting on the back porch, Mav combs Lisa’s hair, and they start to think about what they will name their daughter. As they look up at the stars shining in the black sky, Mav tells Lisa he’s thought of a name.