Summary: Chapter 5

Lisa drives Starr and Sekani to school and encourages Starr to call if she needs to come home early. Starr takes a moment to get into the mindset she needs at Williamson. She cannot use slang or be confrontational, or else other students will stereotype her.

Starr meets up with her friends Hailey and Maya, and they talk about Hailey’s spring break. Hailey complains about her trip to the Bahamas. Starr silently laments that while her friends had exciting spring breaks, she watched a friend get shot. Maya jokes that Hailey spent the entire vacation texting her, and Starr wonders why Hailey texted Maya but not her. Hailey has been acting distant toward Starr ever since unfollowing Starr’s Tumblr blog after Starr reblogged a post about Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy who was lynched by a mob after allegedly whistling at a white woman.

Because of the emotional fallout from Khalil’s murder, Starr misses Chris. Starr had initially gotten angry at Chris because he took out a condom while they made out. She previously told Chris she was not ready for sex because of her fear of getting pregnant, and so was angry at him for having a condom. In the present, Chris explains that he wanted to be prepared if Starr changed her mind, but did not want to pressure her. Chris begins to rap the theme to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which has been their song since they started dating. Starr and Chris once discussed how they loved that Will stayed himself in Bel-Air, and Starr lamented that she couldn’t be herself at Williamson. When Chris asked why and called her “Fresh Princess,” Starr decided she could be herself with him. However, she has not told Chris about Natasha’s death because she does not want him to see her as fragile.

As Chris continues to rap, he grabs Starr’s hands. She has a flashback to Khalil’s murder, and flinches as she realizes that both One-Fifteen and Chris are white. She begins to cry. Chris tries to apologize.

Seven picks Sekani and Starr up from school, and they bring food to Lisa at the clinic where she works. As they prepare to eat, Brenda, Khalil’s mother, enters, crying about Khalil. Lisa tells Brenda that she has to get treatment for her drug addiction and asks Starr to get her some food. Starr angrily argues that Brenda shouldn’t get to be upset because she wasn’t a good mother to Khalil. Lisa scolds Starr, reminding her that no matter what, Khalil was Brenda’s son. Chastised, Starr gets an extra-large plate of food for Brenda.

Summary: Chapter 6

Starr panics as she and Lisa enter the police station. She keeps noticing the guns the police officers carry and remembering the night of Khalil’s death. Lisa almost decides to bring Starr home, but Starr insists she wants to continue. As the detectives, Gomez and Wilkes, enter, Starr remembers the rules for dealing with the police.

Gomez refers to the shooting as “the incident.” Starr asks if “the incident” means Khalil’s death. Gomez questions why Khalil had been at the party, and Starr wonders about the necessity of the question. After, Gomez asks whether Khalil had anything to do with the fight at the party, which Starr denies. Starr begins to describe the events of the police stop. When Gomez asks whether Khalil seemed angry, Starr responds that Khalil had been annoyed, but not angry. After Gomez suggests that Khalil hesitated when One-Fifteen forced him out of the car, Starr realizes Maverick had been right to warn her about the police twisting her words.

Starr reaches the fatal moment when One-Fifteen told Khalil to stay put. Gomez notes that Khalil did not keep still, and Starr snaps that Khalil did not shoot himself. Starr panics at her boldness, and Lisa attempts to end the interview. Starr resolves to continue but begins to cry as she gets to the shooting. She explains that Khalil opened the door to ask whether Starr was OK. Gomez thanks Starr, but then changes tactics. Gomez asks whether Khalil sold drugs. Lisa interjects that the question is irrelevant. At that moment, Starr understands that Gomez wants to twist the story to make it about Khalil’s drug dealing. She avoids giving a straight answer and informs Gomez that Khalil had no gang connections. Gomez asks whether Khalil drank, which outrages Lisa. Lisa demands to know why Gomez is acting as if Starr and Khalil committed a crime. Gomez is flustered, and Starr insists that Khalil did nothing wrong. As Starr and Lisa leave the police station, Starr knows that the police are not looking for justice.

Analysis: Chapters 5-6

In Chapter Five, the reader sees firsthand how Williamson alienates Starr based on her race and class. In order to avoid the stereotype of the “angry black girl,” Starr silences herself any time she might make a conversation uncomfortable. She cannot afford to travel so she cannot relate to her friends’ exciting experiences, nor can she discuss not being able to afford to travel. Starr diminishes herself and hides her own experiences, including the trauma of Natasha and Khalil’s murders. Starr’s very name implies that she should stand out and take the lead, but she states that part of being Williamson Starr means letting Hailey, the assertive white girl in her trio of friends, take the lead in everything. The price of fitting in at Williamson, therefore, is Starr minimizing her identity and roots as a black girl from Garden Heights.

Read more about identity and Blackness as a theme.

Hailey’s silent argument with Starr over Tumblr highlights the insidious racism that forces Starr to tone herself down at Williamson. Hailey’s unfollowing of Starr’s Tumblr is an act of silencing. While Starr does not talk about black issues at Williamson, she does on her Tumblr, meaning that by unfollowing Starr, Hailey avoids having to listen to Starr’s experiences as a black girl because they make her feel uncomfortable. Hailey and Starr rarely see each other outside of school because Hailey’s parents will not allow her to visit Garden Heights; they believe it to be dangerous based on stereotypes about black neighborhoods. Therefore, by eliminating the digital space of their friendship where Starr can be more open, Hailey only listens to Williamson Starr, who puts energy into shrinking herself and following Hailey’s lead. When Starr says she worries this means that Hailey does not like her anymore, she ignores the truth that Hailey has only ever liked a self-censored version of Starr.

Read more about how stereotypes often end up hurting the Black community.

Starr has a negative reaction to Chris taking her hand because she realizes that Chris’s whiteness makes him part of the same system as One-Fifteen, which is a society that privileges white lives over black ones. Although Chris cannot help being white, Starr still must deal with the violent effects of white supremacy, epitomized by Khalil’s death. Importantly, Starr recognizes the weight of Chris’s whiteness while he raps because rap is a specifically black cultural form. Chris’s understanding of Starr’s blackness comes from their mutual love of black cultural touchstones like rap music and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but these interests do not make him black or automatically understanding of Starr’s experiences. Starr still hasn’t told him about Natasha, meaning that Chris does not yet have Starr’s perspective on the difficult parts of black experience.

Read more about “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” as a motif.

Lisa’s strong objection to Starr’s anger at Brenda expands the theme of the dehumanization of black people through stereotypes from the previous chapters. Starr’s reaction to Brenda is accusatory and reductive, functioning as if Brenda’s addiction erases the ways she was a mother to Khalil. This line of thinking parallels the way Khalil’s drug dealing overshadows everything else about his death. Lisa’s reaction makes it clear to both Starr and the readers that a person’s life and circumstances cannot be so easily erased and that it is unfair to demand perfection to deserve compassion and justice. Lisa reminds Starr that Brenda was indeed imperfect, but being a perfect or even good mother to Khalil was not necessary for Brenda to feel grief over Khalil’s death.

The accusatory nature of Officer Gomez’s questions demonstrates that the investigation has shifted from an inquiry into a death to a race to find justification for One-Fifteen. Officer Gomez first devalues Khalil’s life by calling the shooting an incident. The word “incident”—as opposed to “shooting” or “death”—minimizes what happened because an incident does not imply a clear victim, and therefore denies Khalil’s victimhood. Starr’s constant vigilance over her tone throughout the interview shows that she does not trust Officer Gomez’s intentions. Thomas emphasizes this through Starr’s pointed code-switching to Williamson Starr, and the anger Starr feels toward herself every time her politeness slips. Starr uses her Williamson persona because she does not want to give Officer Gomez any excuse to disregard her. Similarly, Starr dodges admitting Khalil dealt drugs because she understands that the stereotype will be weaponized against him, eliminating any hope of justice.

Read more about the author’s background and how it influences the character of Starr.