Powerful and timely, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas well deserves its long-held spot at the top of the New York Times Young Adult Bestseller list. If you read only one book this year, it ought to be this one. Thomas masterfully combines social justice and talented story-telling in this novel about teenage Starr Carter who witnesses her best friend being shot to death by the police. Not only does the novel examine major problems that affect people of color like police brutality, but it also explores smaller, more insidious ones like microaggressions and cultural appropriation. Every character is so multi-faceted and believable, you will find yourself caring deeply about them and what they are going through.
The outside world only cares that Khalil was possibly a drug dealer. But to Starr, he was so much more than that. Although they had only recently gotten back in touch, she knew Khalil was a devoted son, grandson, brother, and friend. Past crimes or no, he was unarmed and innocently driving Starr home on the night of the shooting. To hear people on the news and even at school condemn his death as deserved makes Starr quiver with rage. But how can she make them understand? Starr attends a mostly white private school called Williamson, where she carefully polices her own voice and actions so as not to appear too “ghetto.” Starr often feels like she has two selves: Williamson Starr and Garden Heights Starr (the name of her neighborhood). Her friends at school don’t understand Khalil, or the world he and Starr came from for that matter.
Like Khalil, only the worst parts of Garden Heights are public knowledge, but Starr sees another side. Yes, it is ravaged by poverty, gangs, and drugs. But it is also a neighborhood where everybody knows each other, where they band together after a disaster, where there’s a bakery that makes the best red velvet cake around. Starr would rather focus on school and grieving than step forward as the witness to a highly publicized case. But if she doesn’t speak up, the misconceptions and mistreatment of her friends and neighbors will go on undisputed. With the help of an activist group called Just Us for Justice, Starr learns to use the strongest weapon she has to fight back: her voice.
The Hate U Give takes an interesting perspective on police brutality. Rather than focusing on the cop or the victim as we often see in the news, it follows the victim’s family and friends and the impact on the community. It connects major moments of racial violence to all the little details that create an environment ripe for it to happen, from economic disparity, to the pervasiveness of prejudice and stereotypes.
Attending a fancy private school in a white neighborhood means facing lots of microaggressions every day. Sometimes it’s not too bad; all the other kids automatically assume Starr’s dance moves are cool just because she is black, so she never has to feel self-conscious at school dances. But sometimes it crosses a line. Hailey, the unofficial leader of Starr’s trio of friends, often makes jokes at her friends’ expenses. When she cracks one about Starr loving fried chicken, Starr decides not to put up with such nonsense from her so-called friend, especially when she’s got enough to deal with with the whole Khalil mess. Even worse, Hailey is more upset about being accused of being racist than about the fact that she said something hurtful to her friend. I hope that anyone reading this scene can realize how inappropriate it is for Hailey to focus on herself at that moment, rather than listening to Starr, and bring that lesson into their own life. If a friend says you’ve hurt them, demanding an apology for them saying so is rarely the right course of action. Rather, you should examine your own actions and take responsibility for how they were perceived.
Another major theme that The Hate U Give addresses is interracial dating. This has been a hot topic this year in other works such as the TV show Dear White People and the movie Get Out. Perhaps “black” works are more acceptable to the mainstream if there is a white love interest? Or perhaps it’s just important to address this topic in today’s climate of extreme diversity mixed with extreme racial tensions. Starr struggles with questions like: does dating a white person make you less of a black activist? Can a white partner ever truly understand what you are going through as a person of color? Her boyfriend Chris, whom she met at Williamson, shares her love of nice sneakers and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but how would he react if he saw what her life was truly like in Garden Heights? As her two worlds collide, Starr is about to find out.
I recommend this book to absolutely everybody, from young teens up to adults of all ages. Thomas’s writing is intense and evocative. Beware of reading this book in public, because it is sure to have tears streaming down your face. Not only is Starr’s experience tragic but her frustration and the injustice of the situation are tragic, too. The issues she faces are all too real and common, and if it takes getting inside the head of someone experiencing them to understand them, Thomas’s book will help you do just that. The Hate U Give is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, and at your local bookstore. It is also in the process of being made into a movie.