In my quest to support black authors, I bought a few books not that long ago. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was the last on that list. I was hesitantly excited for this one. It’s realistic fiction, not fantasy, but it’s gotten a lot of acclaim, earned a few major awards, was even turned into a movie. I really, really wanted it to be good.
Spoiler alert: it was.
But never fear, that will be the only spoiler in this blog post today, so if you were looking for some black-written literature to read and you haven’t picked up this one yet, I won’t be revealing anything relevant to the plot that isn’t in the synopsis.
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.
A Matter of Perspective
Thomas makes for an inclusive narrative by allowing Starr to interact with two different worlds. The neighborhood she lives in is not particularly well-off and is primarily a black neighborhood, whereas the school she goes to is middle class and almost exclusively white. It does not come without its drawbacks; she has to hold back her personality with her school friends, whereas some people in her neighborhood think she’s arrogant and uppity just because she goes to a “fancy white school.”
Unlike I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal, The Hate U Give does not pit two characters from opposite backgrounds together so they might find common ground. Rather, Thomas puts Starr in both worlds and lets her serve as a sort of mediator so that the readers, no matter their own personal background, might find some commonality with the main character.
With the plot revolving around the death of a black kid at the hands of a white police officer, I expected Starr to be outspoken and angry, perhaps at the head of all conversation surrounding her friend’s death. But of course not everyone feels comfortable about stepping into that kind of spotlight, perhaps even more so when they’re fighting through grief. It was enlightening to see the doubt and hesitation that Starr felt, and to see her and her family discuss some of the more philosophical questions around police reform, how one could go about improving a neighborhood, motivations behind people becoming drug dealers, and so forth.
Friendly and Unfriendly Discourse
As one of the few black people at her school, Starr has to deal with the uninformed, privileged actions and statements of her friends. She has a white friend, an Asian American friend, and a white boyfriend. Starr’s (black, obviously) uncle is a cop. Having a cop in the family gave Starr the ability to consider all cops versus the bad cops, and while the whole Blue Lives Matter controversy was never directly discussed, it did at least prevent people from saying something stupid about Starr and her family hating all cops.
As for Starr’s school friends, it was interesting to see the way they all reacted to the news of Khalil’s death and how their perspectives changed as more information came out. I loved to see how Starr’s relationships with her friends and her boyfriend evolved in specific ways, how each person reacted differently to getting their privileges checked, because it only makes sense.
A Constant-Paced Plot
Most books have fast and slow moments, but there weren’t really any scenes that felt more fast-paced than others. That said, it never felt slow. Khalil’s death affects every aspect of Starr’s life. There’s no escaping it. I never got bored with the plot. That’s probably because throughout the whole book, Starr is grappling with the grief and fear that comes from seeing an old friend of yours get shot in front of you… Not to mention she doesn’t want the whole world to know she was the one there with him, afraid of what that’ll mean for her personal life and for the safety of her family.
There’s always something, whether with her school friends or her neighborhood friends or with her family or the case, that it was hard to put the book down. I enjoyed every minute of it, every side plot as well as the main one. I can’t get much further into it without spoilers, though, so we’ll have to leave it at that.
Overall Rating: 5 Stars
I know this is a bit of a short review, but there’s little else to say. This is a book which, at its core, is about Black Lives Matter, but it’s more discourse and discussion than lecture. More than anything else, it humanizes the problems faced by black communities, especially for its white readers. It also reminds its audience that just because talking about race can be uncomfortable and easy to get wrong doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about.
If you’re the type of reader that’s grown curious about the BLM movement, about the facts surrounding police brutality, or about privilege (especially what it means to have white privilege), The Hate U Give is an eye-opening book that I would recommend. Even if you’re relatively familiar with such topics, The Hate U Give provides a protagonist that can offer another lens with which to look at them.