Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
We open on the funeral of Bobby Green, a black teenager who was shot to death as a bystander in a drive-by. From the pastor's eulogy, it's immediately clear that the book is set in a neighborhood plagued by gun violence. Everyone here has been to funerals like Bobby's before, and (spoiler alert) they'll be at another one in the very near future.
It's summertime, but our protagonist Jesse Givens isn't exactly feeling carefree. He's worried about his best friend, Rise, who hasn't been acting like himself. Other people are starting to notice, too. It turns out that Rise has been quietly transforming into a criminal. In fact, he's all set to become the new neighborhood cocaine dealer—all he has to do is figure out what to do with those pesky Diablos, a violent gang that isn't interested in a new dealer honing in on their turf.
Jesse and Rise have long been members of the Counts, a nonviolent social club. The Counts aren't into criminal stuff—their club business generally involves stuff like organizing dances—but it seems they're getting dragged into Rise's turf war. They don't really know it, though, because Rise isn't exactly forthcoming about his transformation into a drug lord. Jesse and his friends are targeted in what they think is a random drive-by. Thing is, it wasn't random; it was the Diablos retailing against Rise.
Meanwhile, Jesse's hard at work solving the mystery of What's Up with Rise. Rise has asked him to write (well, draw—Jesse's an artist) a book about his life. They're calling it an autobiography, and Jesse's goal is to make it so good that Rise will magically transform back into the friend he used to be. As Jesse works on the book, he grows closer with his friend C.J. (another member of the Counts) and more distant from Rise, who grows more unappealing by the minute. Slowly, Jesse realizes that Rise has turned into someone really different from the Rise he used to know.
The action comes to a head when Rise calls a meeting between the Counts and the Diablos in the back of a pawnshop. Jesse and C.J. don't want to go, but peer pressure is a powerful motivator. The Diablos never show, and Rise is all like, okay, cool, guess we can just call off this turf war. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Jesse and the other Counts, he has secretly arranged for the Diablos to get murdered at another location. Whoa.
It doesn't take long for the police to figure out that Rise was involved, and everyone in the Counts is hauled down to the station. Jesse, C.J., and their parents are freaking out; they learn that Rise was using them as an alibi during that pawnshop meeting. Since the police can't make anything stick, though, Rise is getting off scot-free.
Or, kind of. See, now that he's murdered so many Diablos, there's a target on Rise's back. He decides he needs to move to Florida, and on his way out of town, he stops by Jesse's building to say goodbye to the old gang. Unfortunately, Rise gets shot during his visit, and after a few minutes of crying in Jesse's arms, Rise is dead. With that, the book closes in the same way it opened: with a funeral.