Summary of Chapters 16 - 18
Ms. Ofrah arranges for Starr to do an interview with a national news program, one week before she will testify in front of the grand jury. She helps Starr prepare for a week in advance; after practicing, Starr helps out at Just Us for Justice. On the way to the interview, Starr gets a text from Chris about the prom next Saturday; Chris and DeVante are becoming friends.
The interviewer, Diane Carey, asks Starr who Khalil was to her, and Starr replies that he was a jokester with a big heart—a kid. She says that Officer Cruise pointed his gun at her, and she reveals why Khalil sold drugs, but points out that even if he had been in a gang it wouldn’t have justified his shooting. Finally, Carey asks her what she would say to Officer Cruise if he was sitting here. Starr says that she would ask him if he wished he shot her too.
Starr’s interview is an instant hit; by the next morning, it’s one of the most-watched interviews in the network’s history. An anonymous donor offers to pay for Starr’s college tuition, and she receives a flood of emails and texts supporting her, including one from Kenya. She also receives death threats, however, and a warning from King.
That Saturday, Starr goes to the prom with Chris, but he’s acting distant. She and Maya dance together while Hailey continues to give them the cold shoulder. Finally, Chris yells at Starr after asking if she wants a picture together. Starr runs to hide in the Rolls-Royce that Chris hired to drive them. He climbs inside the car, and tells Starr that he knows she’s the witness of Khalil’s death and is upset that she hid it from him.
Starr explains that she liked that Chris could let her retain normality in her life and was afraid that he would see her as just the girl from the hood. Chris reassures Starr that he won’t judge her, and Starr tells him about Natasha’s death and the difficulty of growing up in poverty. Chris embraces Starr and the two say “I love you” for the first time. They go back to the dance; Starr thinks that the night is one of the best of her life.
The next day, Starr’s family drives to the suburbs to check out the house that Maverick and Lisa plan on buying. Maverick confronts Seven about his plan to attend community college, and convinces him to go to college away from home because it offers more opportunities. The family prays together, and Lisa thanks her mother for giving her money for the down payment.
Back in Garden Heights, Starr’s family watches a basketball game together in the den. In the middle of the game, gunshots ring out and bullets fly through a front window. Maverick runs to the door and shoots at a receding group of men right after someone throws a brick through the living room window. No one is hurt, but Carlos comes over to survey the damage. He and Maverick debate whether the perpetrators are King Lords or police looking to scare Starr on the night before she will testify to the grand jury. Starr insists that she won’t testify because she doesn’t want to endanger the family; Maverick responds by invoking the anti-oppression ideologies of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. Carlos gets angry when he finds out that Maverick called two Cedar Grove King Lords to guard the house for the night.
Analysis of Chapters 16 - 18
The mixed reactions to Starr’s interview characterize the highly polarized environment surrounding the discussion of race and police brutality in America today. While many applaud Starr’s bravery and appreciate her perspective, others respond with death threats or simple indifference. As much as Starr attempts to defend Khalil and point out that his life decisions didn’t affect the events surrounding his death, it’s clear that some people dismiss both Starr and Khalil by virtue of their backgrounds and their skin color.
Likewise, the difficulty Star experiences in allowing Chris to see all sides of her life reflects her worry that he will dismiss her as “ghetto.” Even though Khalil and Natasha’s deaths were such significant events in her life, Starr is reluctant to tell Chris about it, in part because she feels that his life has been so different from hers that he would be unable to understand the pain she’s gone through. Chris offers a different perspective: even though he and Starr are separated by their past experiences, they can still open up to each other, love each other, and accept each other.
Seven’s conflict over whether or not he should leave for college is similar to Maverick’s inner turmoil about the decision to leave Garden Heights. Both Seven and Maverick want what is best for their families. Seven wants to protect his mother and sisters from King’s abuse; Maverick points out that it should be the role of a parent to care for their child, not vice versa. The decision is made more complicated by the fact that colleges located further away can offer better opportunities for Seven than the community college. Seven’s ultimate decision to accept Maverick’s advice and attend a different college reflects his determination to further his position in life and improve himself, but he still experiences conflict because he wants the best for those he loves.
In these chapters, readers can see Starr’s continued struggle as she is torn between the need to speak and the urge to keep quiet. The nature of this fear has changed as well. Earlier, Starr was reluctant to speak up because she wasn’t yet ready, still reeling from the aftermath of Khalil’s death and unsure if she could even help bring him to justice. After unknown assailants throw a brick through her window, however, Starr’s reluctance to use her voice on a national platform is related more towards fear that she will endanger her family than to personal fears about her own readiness for the challenge. It takes Maverick’s Black Panther-based arguments to reorient her towards speaking up in the face of potential danger.
The Cedar Grove King Lord’s act of protection for Starr and her family adds to the narrative that gang members cannot be written off as thugs or criminals. Khalil and DeVante’s situations demonstrate how a lack of opportunities for poor, young black men can drive them towards the streets as a means of gaining subsistence and a surrogate family. While involvement in gangs often leads toward imprisonment or death, many—such as DeVante and Khalil—feel as if they have no other choice. In this way, the novel works to challenge preconceived views of of gang members and offers insight into why street violence occurs.