Starr Carter attends a party in Garden Heights with one of her best friends at the party Starr reconnects with hr childhood best friend Khalil . When they heard shots fire Khalil and Starr run from the party together and Khalil offers to drive Starr home.
When a white police officer pulls Khalil over. Terrified Starr begs Khalil to do whatever the officer says. The officer demands Khalil get out of the car, searches him, and then tells him to stay where he is while he walks back to his car. When Khalil opens the car door to check on Starr, the officr thinks Khalil has a weapon and shoots and kills him.
Khalil's death becomes a major national news story. The media portrays Khalil as a gang banger and drug dealer, while more favorably portraying the white officer who killed him. Starr's identity as the witness is initially kept secret from just about everyone. Starr's two best friends Starr's boyfriend, Chris who all attend Williamson Prep together (Starr's private school) are all unaware of Starr's connection to the news story.
Starr is later on interviewed by numerous police officers and detectives. Starr is the only other person that was in the car with Khalil when everything went down so everyone is coming to her with all the questions. She doesn't want to get Khalil in trouble but she wonders if she should say whats on her mind to protect her and Khalil.
Starr is a foil to Khalil because she was the closest to him and she knows what he would and would not want. She is also the foil because without her the plot of the book would not be complete and there would not be anyone to tell what happened the night of the incident.
After the grand jury fails to prosecute the white officer, Garden Heights erupts into both peaceful protests and riots. Failure of the criminal justice system to hold the officer accountable and pushes Starr to take things into her own hands, first giving an interview and then speaking out during the protests. Her increasing identification with the people of Garden Heights causes tension with Starr's friends and especially with her boyfriend Chris.