Summary of Chapters 4 - 6
In the middle of the night, Starr is awakened by shadowy nightmares about Natasha and Khalil. She starts to walk down the hallway toward the kitchen, and overhears her parents speaking to her mother’s brother, Carlos. Carlos lives in a nicer neighborhood than Starr’s family and works as a police officer. He tries to convince Starr’s parents that Starr should speak to the police about the circumstances of Khalil’s shooting as part of an ongoing investigation into the officer’s conduct. Starr shifts and the floor creaks, making the adults aware of her presence. Carlos asks her if she would like to speak to the police. Starr is reluctant, but agrees because Carlos promises that it will help Khalil get justice. After Carlos leaves, Starr’s father angrily remarks that Carlos was pressuring Starr. Starr thinks that her father doesn’t like her uncle because Carlos became Starr’s surrogate father from when she was three until she was six, when Maverick spent in prison.
The next morning, Starr and her parents drive to visit Khalil’s grandmother, Rosalie. Starr reflects on the fond memories she had playing with Khalil and Natasha at “Ms. Rosalie’s” house. The two families are close, since Rosalie took Lisa in after she became pregnant in her senior year of high school and her own mother kicked her out. Rosalie also babysat Starr and Sekani while Lisa finished college.
Lisa knocks, and Tammy—Khalil’s aunt—opens the door. The four sit down in the living room with Khalil’s younger brother Cameron and Rosalie, who is thinner and wearing a headscarf as she braves the effects of chemotherapy. Rosalie comforts Starr, and tells the group that even though Khalil was involved in selling drugs, he wanted to turn to Maverick for advice on how to get out of the business. Maverick and Lisa give Rosalie money to help pay for the funeral, and the group grieves together.
The next day, Starr’s family prays together before Lisa drives Starr and Sekani to school. At school, Starr tries to keep up normal conversation with her friends, but thoughts about Khalil keep intruding. Other problems make Starr uncomfortable at school, too. Her friends enjoyed vacations in the Bahamas and Florida, while Starr’s family heads to a local hotel with a swimming pool if they vacation at all. One of Starr’s closest friends, Hailey, has been more distant since she unfollowed Starr on Tumblr after Starr reblogged a picture of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955. Starr is also in a fight with her boyfriend, Chris, because Chris pulled out a condom even though Starr had told Chris she wasn’t ready for sex. Race further complicates their relationship: although Starr’s mother knows she has a white boyfriend, Starr is reluctant to tell her father.
Chris tries to talk to Starr, and starts singing her favorite song—the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. Starr is beginning to lighten up when Chris grabs her hands, and she flashes back to the night Khalil died, thinking of how the cop who shot him was as white as Chris is. She begins to cry and heads into class, leaving Chris confused.
After school, Seven picks up Starr and Sekani and they drive to meet Lisa at the medical clinic where she works. They pick up Chinese food to eat at the clinic. As soon as they sit down to eat, though, they’re interrupted by the arrival of Khalil’s mother, Brenda. She’s not in a good state: her eyes are red from crying, and her body is covered in the sores and scabs indicative of drug abuse. When Starr gets a moment alone with Lisa, she angrily remarks that Brenda has no right to be upset now since she was never a good mother to Khalil. Lisa yells at Starr, arguing that Brenda was Khalil’s mother regardless of her mistakes. As Starr brings a plate of food to Brenda and looks in her eyes, she thinks that her mother is right.
At four-thirty, Lisa takes Starr to the police office for the investigation. Two police officers—Detective Gomez, a Latina woman, and Detective Wilkes, a white man—ask Starr about the events surrounding Khalil’s shooting. Starr recounts everything that happened, although she can’t help but think that Gomez doesn’t believe the officer forced Khalil out of the car. Starr begins to get upset and her mother motions for her to leave, but she insists on finishing the interview. She answers a few more questions about how Khalil moved to open the door after the officer left the car, but is blindsided by questions about whether Khalil sold narcotics and if he and Starr had anything to drink at the party. Lisa and Starr leave the station feeling certain that the investigation of the officer who shot Khalil will not be fair.
Analysis of Chapters 4 - 6
Starr’s experiences at Williamson point to the difficulty she has in an environment that can often be toxic, because it forces her to pretend to be someone she’s not. Starr feels the need to censor herself around her white peers because she doesn’t want to be seen only for her race. She is able to fit in and make friends at Williamson, but the barrier of background always separates her from Hailey and Maya, making her hold back fundamental parts of her personality for fear of estranging herself from her wealthier, non-black peers.
This conflict extends to Starr’s relationship as well. Starr worries that her father will be angry that she’s dating a white boy, because in the past he’s viewed black women who date white men negatively. To a large extent, Chris is the white person that Starr can feel most comfortable around. But she never entirely lets her guard down; Chris’s wealth and his skin color still stand in the way of complete openness between them. Khalil’s shooting further complicates the relationship because it makes Starr more aware than ever of the implications of Chris’s whiteness, and the privilege his wealth and skin color have given him to spare him from the challenges Starr has faced.
Khalil’s mother, Brenda, serves as an example of the tragic effect drug abuse has had on inner-city communities (as well as suburbs and rural areas) throughout America. Starr is particularly angry that Khalil sold drugs because she saw firsthand the destruction that Brenda’s addiction brought upon her family and Khalil himself. Brenda’s experience illustrates the tragic circularity of addiction and poverty; Khalil enables other drug users in order to bring his own family out of the circumstances that drug abuse brought upon them. However, Lisa points out that Brenda’s addiction does not degrade her as a human being or devalue her emotions.
Starr’s experience at the police station advances the theme of the mistreatment of black people at the hands of authorities. The detectives ask about Khalil’s character, as if he could be implicated in his own murder because of past experiences that the officer could not have been aware of. Starr feels frustrated in the face of questions that seem to perpetuate a surface representation of Khalil as a drug dealer and a thug—and, by implication, not worthy of life. In the eyes of the police and white America, Khalil’s murder is made less impactful and less unjust because of his circumstances in life.
A positive theme explored in these chapters is community. Rosalie supported Lisa and Maverick as they tried to raise a family; Lisa and Maverick pay her back in the form of money, food, and emotional support. The Garden Heights community is beset by violence, but the presence of a strong interconnection between neighbors, friends, and families help provide the solace and comfort necessary to get through the hard times. The juxtaposition of broken and abusive families such as Kenya’s alongside loving and supporting families such as Starr’s points to the existence of deep problems among the Garden Heights community as well as the existence of care and love.