Six very different teens are trapped together in the high school when it's bombed, and when they hear the bomber is still in the school, they'll have to put their differences aside and work together if they hope to survive.
It is 1983 and Vanessa Martin, a thirteen-year-old African American girl in Newark's public housing, dreams of following in the footsteps of the first black Miss America, Vanessa Williams. The odds are against her until a new teacher at school organizes a beauty pageant and encourages Vanessa to enter.
When Candice finds the letter addressed to her grandmother inside a box in the attic, she's not sure she should read it. The curiosity is too much to resist, and Candice discovers a mystery generations before her time. With the help of her neighbor, Brandon, she is determined to find the truth even if it means revealing her own deep secrets in the process.
Amina, a Pakistani American Muslim, has entered middle school. She is happy hanging with her friend Soojin, a Korean American, but things have started changing, especially when Soojin starts hanging out with popular Emily. When Soojin says she might change her name to something more American, Amina starts to wonder if she will have to change to fit in, too. However, when her local mosque is vandalized, Amina realizes that it is better to be herself....
Alfonso Jones is buying his first suit--dreaming of playing Hamlet in his school's hip-hop version of the Shakespearian play and finally telling Danetta how he really feels about her--when an off-duty cop mistakes his coat hanger for a gun and shoots him. In the afterlife, Alfonso rides on a ghost train guided by police shooting victims, while in life his family and friends struggle to confront their grief.
Lolly is having a terrible time--his brother Jermaine got in a fight and then got shot. He doesn't know how to go on, but using the two giant bags of LEGOs his mom's girlfriend gave him, Lolly finds himself caught up in making a gigantic city--so big it goes outside his apartment. Then, he and his friend Vega get jumped by a few older guys, and Lolly will have to decide either to join a "crew" and get revenge, or find a different path.
Twelve-year-old María Luisa O'Neill-Morales (who really prefers to be called Malú) reluctantly moves with her Mexican-American mother to Chicago and starts seventh grade with a bang--violating the dress code with her punk rock aesthetic and spurning the middle school's most popular girl in favor of starting a band with a group of like-minded weirdos.
Sunny always has a goofy smile and is the happiest person on the Defenders team. But Sunny's mom died giving birth to him and it seems like his dad blames him since he ignores Sunny and makes him call him "Darryl" and never "Dad." The only thing Sunny can do right in his dad's eyes is to win first place ribbons in running the mile, just like his mother. Sunny hates running and loves to dance and when he discovers a track event that allows him to incorporate...
Seventh-grader Jerome is mistakenly shot by a white police officer, and as a ghost, observes the turmoil in his community as a result of his death. He then meets the ghost of Emmett Till, who helps Jerome understand how systemic racism led to his death, but also understand how far the effects of his death really go by introducing him to the grieving daughter of the police officer who struggles with her father's actions.