Starr Carter begrudgingly attends Big D’s spring break party in Garden Heights. She feels like neither “version” of herself belongs there, and she feels out of place. People are dancing, drinking, and smoking marijuana, and the environment is loud and hot. Starr is there with Kenya, a childhood friend. Kenya tells Starr to go dance, because people already think Starr feels like she’s “all that” because she goes to Williamson Prep school. Kenya also calls Starr out on her clothes—she’s wearing a hoodie from Kenya’s brother, Seven. Starr clarifies that Seven is both hers and Kenya’s brother. Kenya’s mom is Seven’s mom, and Starr’s dad is Seven’s dad.
Big D’s party introduces the sometimes-overwhelming world of Garden Height. It also establishes the “code switching” that Starr will grapple with throughout the novel, as she feels pulled between her competing identities as a girl from the “ghetto” and a student at Williamson. This scene also introduces Kenya, Starr’s closest friend in Garden Heights and someone who keeps her connected to the neighborhood.
Starr describes Kenya, who is beautiful and fashionable. She’s the only person Starr really hangs out with in Garden Heights, since Starr lost touch with her Garden Heights peers after transferring to Williamson Prep six years earlier. At the party, Kenya is glaring at her nemesis, a girl named Denasia. Kenya tries to enlist Starr to help her “handle” Denasia tonight, but Starr tries to back her way out of any drama. Kenya complains about Starr’s “bougie” white friends, saying they “don’t count” and so Starr is obligated to help her only real friend: Kenya.
Tensions between Kenya and Starr will continue throughout the rest of the novel. Kenya suggests that she feels abandoned by Starr and calls Starr out for acting as though she is ashamed of her Garden Heights roots. This echoes the novel’s themes of loyalty and community, and foreshadows Starr’s later tensions with her Williamson friends as well.
Kenya walks away to get another drink, leaving Starr alone and uncomfortable with so many unfamiliar faces. Starr notes that at Williamson, being one of the only black kids automatically makes her cool; in Garden Heights, on the other hand, she is invisible.
Starr then sees Khalil, a close childhood friend who until recently worked at the Carter family’s store. She notices how handsome he looks, momentarily forgetting that she already has a boyfriend, Chris. She also notes that Khalil is wearing expensive sneakers and jewelry. He says he has been keeping “busy,” which Starr understands to mean he has been selling drugs. Khalil says his grandmother is going through chemotherapy, and that his mother, Brenda, continues to struggle to get clean.
Starr and Khalil’s reunion suggests romantic tension, as well as showing how distant Starr has grown from her childhood friends. Drug dealing is common enough in Garden Heights that Starr easily recognizes what Khalil has been up to, while his family struggles hint at the complicated reasons he turned to such a life.
Suddenly shots ring out at the party. Starr worries about where Kenya is, but Khalil grabs Starr’s hand and the two run to his car. Starr texts Kenya, who says she is fine and on her way to “handle” Denasia, which Starr thinks is crazy after just being close to gunshots. As she gets in, Starr notices that Khalil’s car has a customized green interior.
Khalil’s immediate move to protect Starr illustrates his deep care for her. The fact that Kenya seems unfazed by the gunshots also suggests that this violence is simply another part of life in Garden Heights. The color green is associated with the Garden Disciples gang, a fact that later confuses Starr when Khalil is said to have been in the rival King Lords.
Khalil reaches for his hairbrush and combs his hair while noting that a fight between rival gangs—the King Lords and Garden Disciples—probably caused the gunshots. Starr notes that Garden Heights has been in the grip of “stupid territory wars” for some time. Her own father, Maverick, was a King Lord at one point but “left the game.”
Khalil turns on the radio and Tupac comes on. Starr thinks Tupac is old and irrelevant. Khalil explains Tupac’s importance to Starr, noting that he defined Thug Life as “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” According to Khalil, this means the way society treats black kids comes back around to hurt everyone. Starr worries what Khalil is doing to “fuck everybody.”
Tupac Shakur was a rapper acclaimed for his often-philosophical lyrics and focus on racism and inner city black communities. His words grant the novel its title and reflect the importance of hip hop in Starr’s world. This quote will reappear multiple times in the text as a sort of motif that underscores Starr’s growing awareness of and commitment to ending racial injustice.
Starr calls Khalil out for selling drugs. He defends himself by saying his grandmother lost her job at the hospital, ironically due to being too sick to work. He is trying to support his family and got tired of “choosing between lights and food.”
Khalil’s story complicates stereotypical notions of drug dealers, establishing him as a good kid simply faced with impossible choices.
Seven texts Starr, worried about where she is. Starr and Khalil laugh about Seven’s overprotectiveness and reminisce about another old friend, Natasha, noting that the three of them used call themselves “tighter than the inside of Voldemort’s nose.” Khalil says how strange it feels that it has been “six years.” Just then, police sirens flash in the rear window.
Though what happened to Natasha is not yet explained, it is clear that Starr has already experienced tragedy in Garden Heights. The police sirens end the chapter on a note of suspense and dread.