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I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. When the movie came out it was added to my list for future posts. But then I stalled, and stalled and stalled. As interested as I was in it, I also didn’t really want to face it’s realness. The book revolves around Starr, who witnesses her childhood best-friend, Khalil, get shot and killed by a police officer. She struggles with fear, guilt and shame as the people around her pressure her to either stand up for her friend or stay silent for her safety. This builds on the pressure she already feels attending a private school with mostly rich white kids.
I knew this book would not be an easy read, and would likely bring me to tears. I was absolutely right. Hearing everything from Starr’s point of view is heartbreaking. The realness of the story also makes it hit hard. The characters are flawed. Khalil questions the officer, responds with an attitude and doesn’t follow his directions. You may find yourself judging him, it almost seems as if Starr does too in the moment. But as Starr points out, he didn’t do anything wrong, certainly not anything to deserve to die. It also accurately reflects real world stories where the victim ends up being more scrutinized than the police officer. Starr also has her own complicated and conflicting issues. The story is just too real not to hit home.
The movie sticks pretty close to the book. They switch the order of scenes, eliminate some characters and make a few changes that don’t have a major affect on the overall story. I didn’t like the changes they made to the story line following her school friendships. In the book, Hailey’s racist behavior is more of a ongoing issue extending beyond Khalil’s murder, the movie makes it the catalyst for all the conflict between with her friends. In the book it’s a lot more complicated, a lot the deeper issues Starr and her family struggle with are just barely mentioned in the movie. They also threw in an extra confrontation between police officers and the family that seemed just to be there to shock viewers and drive home the main theme. Generally it was a good movie, and a pretty good adaptation. What’s odd is that for a fairly long movie, a little over two hours, it felt rushed. It also didn’t seem to have the same natural flow as the book. The order of events and scenes felt disjointed and pieced together. There are also elements left out of the movie that would have added more depth. I think the narrow focus on Starr, made the other characters fall flat.
Overall, I’d say the two were pretty comparable. They both manage to tell a difficult story that shines a light on a very real problem. While the movie has a very narrow focus, I think the book really highlights how the events affect more than just the individuals involved. In the real world it’s hard to see the connections, but the book really shows how the events ripple out to family, friends and the communities of the victims of police violence and abuse. I preferred the book over the movie but I really think this is a story everybody should hear in either form.