Starr Carter is at a party in her neighborhood, Garden Heights, but she does not feel like she fits in. Her friend Kenya leaves her to confront a girl who is flirting with DeVante, the boy she is seeing. Starr feels uncomfortable until she sees her childhood friend Khalil. They start talking and Starr is happy to see him again, but she also suspects that Khalil is dealing drugs, as he is wearing suspiciously expensive clothing.
When gunshots are fired, Starr and Khalil escape to Khalil’s car. He starts to drive her home and they chat about childhood memories, but Khalil also confirms Starr’s suspicions that he has ended up in a criminal lifestyle. Then a police car starts its siren and signals for them to pull over.
Starr is anxious because her parents have told her she needs to be extremely careful around police officers. Her father has told her to keep her hands where the police officer can see them and to do exactly what the police officer wants.
However, Khalil seems less frightened and he argues with the police officer. Starr memorizes the police officer’s badge number – one-fifteen. The police officer makes Khalil get out of the car, pats him down, and tells him to stay put. When the police officer walks back to his car, Khalil tries to open the door and ask Starr if she is ok. The police officer shoots Khalil three times.
Starr rushes out of the car and watches in horror as Khalil dies, while the police officer points his gun at Starr.
Starr is in shock. Her parents arrive to take her home. She remembers how her and Khalil’s childhood friend Natasha was killed in a drive-by shooting when they were both just ten years old.
The next morning, Starr has breakfast with her parents, her little brother Sekani, and her older half-brother Seven. Starr realizes that Khalil’s death is going to be a big deal. She wants to speak out, but she is afraid.
Starr’s dad takes her to the store he owns, where Starr does chores. Starr’s friend Kenya comes in and asks her about Khalil. After a while, Kenya’s dad King turns up. King is the leader of the King Lords gang, which controls most of the Garden Heights area. His partner Ieasha iis Seven’s mother, so Kenya is Seven’s sister. Starr’s dad reminds King that he once went to prison for King, and in return he was allowed to leave the King Lords gang.
When Starr wakes up late that night, her Uncle Carlos is there. Uncle Carlos is a police officer. He argues with Starr’s dad about whether Khalil’s death happened because of racism in the police force, and he argues that Starr should come in for questioning. On Sunday, Starr and her parents visit Khalil’s grandmother, who looked after Starr when she was small. Khalil’s mother is not there because she is a drug addict and may not be fully aware what has happened. Starr tells her story of Khalil’s death to his grandmother and her parents give some money to help pay for the funeral.
The next day, Starr’s mother drives her to school. Starr attends a private school called Williamson in a rich neighborhood. She is one of the only black students in the school and she feels like she has to be a different version of herself there.
She hangs out with her basketball team, which includes her friends Maya and Hailey. However, Starr feels her friendship with Hailey is slipping away because Hailey unfollowed Starr’s Tumblr after Starr posted a photograph of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was killed and mutilated for supposedly whistling at a white woman in the 1950s.
Starr runs into her boyfriend Chris, who is white and wealthy. She is annoyed with him because he brought a condom to their last date even though she had already told him she was not ready to have sex. When he apologizes, she is ready to forgive him, but then she has a vision of Chris as the white police officer who killed Khalil.
Starr and her brothers take dinner to their mother at her work. Khalil’s mother turns up crying. Starr is angry with her for doing drugs and...