Direct and raw.



Inner-city gang violence ravages a neighborhood.

When a gang pummels disabled teen Ricky-Ricky, 15-year-old T takes the brave, foolhardy step of crossing a street to see whether Ricky-Ricky’s OK. For T’s boldness, gang leader Money Mike beats T so badly that he lands in the hospital. Ricky-Ricky’s not OK, though; he’s “flat-fixed,” and Money Mike—T’s own brother—is the one who killed him. Now T and his three best friends may be “marked.” “I ain’t no soldier. / I ain’t enlisted,” says T, but this unnamed city’s war of gangs and guns doesn’t care: a storm of “bullets like raindrops” is something that “just happens.” Cops are both useless and dangerous, and there’s reference to their real-world victims (Michael Brown; Freddie Gray); however, the killings here—including T’s father two years ago—are all committed by gangs. This poor, black community wields distinct, poetic, almost Shakespearean word usage: “He wanna have speak”; “We all held our wait.” Barely noticeable toggling between past- and present-tense narration powerfully creates tension and unease. Only the free verse’s frequent apostrophes connoting a dropped letter are stereotypical and distancing. This is a compassionate, forceful look at the heartbreak and choices these black boys and men face at the lethal intersection of poverty and gang culture. Perhaps reflecting T's adolescent solipsism, black girls and women are less well-rounded and seem in no danger of violence themselves (even in reference to real-world police murders, no black women are named).

Direct and raw. (Verse fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7937-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This story is necessary. This story is important.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • New York Times Bestseller


Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is a black girl and an expert at navigating the two worlds she exists in: one at Garden Heights, her black neighborhood, and the other at Williamson Prep, her suburban, mostly white high school.

Walking the line between the two becomes immensely harder when Starr is present at the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Khalil’s death becomes national news, where he’s called a thug and possible drug dealer and gangbanger. His death becomes justified in the eyes of many, including one of Starr’s best friends at school. The police’s lackadaisical attitude sparks anger and then protests in the community, turning it into a war zone. Questions remain about what happened in the moments leading to Khalil’s death, and the only witness is Starr, who must now decide what to say or do, if anything. Thomas cuts to the heart of the matter for Starr and for so many like her, laying bare the systemic racism that undergirds her world, and she does so honestly and inescapably, balancing heartbreak and humor. With smooth but powerful prose delivered in Starr’s natural, emphatic voice, finely nuanced characters, and intricate and realistic relationship dynamics, this novel will have readers rooting for Starr and opening their hearts to her friends and family.

This story is necessary. This story is important. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249853-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

Though constrained, the work nevertheless stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in...


In this roller-coaster ride of a debut, the author summons the popular legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to respond to the recent tragic violence befalling unarmed black men and boys.

Seventeen-year-old black high school senior Justyce McAllister, a full-scholarship student at the virtually all-white Braselton Prep, is the focus. After a bloody run-in with the police when they take his good deed for malice, Justyce seeks meaning in a series of letters with his “homie” Dr. King. He writes, “I thought if I made sure to be an upstanding member of society, I’d be exempt from the stuff THOSE black guys deal with, you know?” While he’s ranked fourth in his graduating class and well-positioned for the Ivy League, Justyce is coming to terms with the fact that there’s not as much that separates him from “THOSE black guys” as he’d like to believe. Despite this, Stone seems to position Justyce and his best friend as the decidedly well-mannered black children who are deserving of readers’ sympathies. They are not those gangsters that can be found in Justyce’s neighborhood. There’s nuance to be found for sure, but not enough to upset the dominant narrative. What if they weren’t the successful kids? While the novel intentionally leaves more questions than it attempts to answer, there are layers that still remain between the lines.

Though constrained, the work nevertheless stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in the face. Take interest and ask questions. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-93949-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet