Starr feels like two different people. At home in Garden Heights she feels free to talk and act like her family and friends, but when she's at her affluent school, she's careful not to act "ghetto," even around her white boyfriend. Always careful to keep the two sides of herself separate, Starr is suddenly thrust into the middle of an event full of racial tension.
Khalil, an old childhood friend, is killed in front of her when they are pulled over during a routine traffic stop. Khalil is yanked from the car and told to stay still. When he opens the door to ask Starr is she's okay he is shot three times in the back by the white cop.
The event throws her neighborhood into turmoil. Starr travels daily from home - where tanks roll through the streets and the smell of smoke always hanging in the air - to school, where students are protesting Khalil's death and the lack of punishment for the cop... some of them only taking part in order to get out of class.
As the only witness to a racially charged crime, Starr is forced to remember another death, this one from the past - her best friend cut down during a hot afternoon in a drive by - and what her actions in the present can do to help shape the future.
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