"Lord knows we are tired of burying our young men, of driving behind hearses and seeing the painted letters of remembrance on the walls of our neighborhood." (1.2)
The novel opens on a funeral scene, and from Pastor Loving's words here, we understand that these funerals are really common. The word "tired" is super revealing about the regularity with which funerals are occurring.
"When your time comes, you got to go," Rise said. "That's all sad and everything, but that's the word, straight up." (1.22)
Rise has a really cavalier attitude toward death through most of the book—it's just something that happens and there's nothing particularly special about it. He sure does change his tune in his own death scene, though.
There were so many funerals going on, it almost seemed you needed something to make them different. (1.24)
At the ripe old age of fifteen, Jesse has been to so many of his peers' funerals that he finds them hard to differentiate. That's some pretty heavy stuff right there, Shmoopers.
They ran down a thing about how one of these days it's going to be a real drive-by and one of us would be lying in a pool of blood crying for his mama. (13.35)
If you thought that Rise was cavalier about death, just wait till you get a load of these white cops, who think that black kids getting shot is a real hoot. There's a term for people like this: racist jerks.
I had a little hologram, about the size of a nickel, of a skull, and I painted a ring on his finger and pasted the death head onto it. (14.32)
Rise's death is foreshadowed when Jesse paints his portrait. Do you think, on some level, that Jesse knows Rise is headed for an early death?
Maybe it wasn't that Rise was sure that nothing would happen at the meeting. Maybe he just wasn't afraid of dying. (19.48)
Jesse's scared silly when confronted with the possibility of his own death. Rise? Not so much… well, at least until he gets shot. Then he's not so down with dying.
Jesse's Parents (The Givenses)
"The other one didn't make it?" Mom's voice was almost a shriek. […]
It was terrible to see Mom crying like that, and to know why she was crying. (21.65 and 21.67)
Jesse's mom totally breaks down when she hears another Diablo died from the wounds he sustained during the shooting. Why?
It could have been me or C.J. just as easy as it had been the Diablos. The colors didn't matter. Bullets didn't know nothing about good guys and bad guys. (21.62)
When three gang members are shot and killed, Jesse has a real "there but for the grace of God go I" type of moment. As he notes, bullets don't care at all who they hit.
I held Rise close to my chest and we were crying together. And then he went limp in my arms. (23.56)
Jesse's best friend literally dies in his arms. It doesn't get much worse than that, folks. At least he can be there for Rise in his final moments, though, being like a brother at the bitter end.
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. […] We will miss Rise Davis and mourn his passing." (23.2)
The book ends in the same way it began: with a funeral. One more bummer for the road.