Novel: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | Goodreads
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins)
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.
To me, the evaluation of this book — and others like it that cover widespread societal issues — is divided into two parts: execution and message. Normally, I feel that I either connect to a book’s discussion or those qualities that make it immersive. If a book is making me think and analyze certain topics deeply (and apply those conclusions to my own life and interactions), I’m probably not savoring the story world in a way that’s all-in. The Hate U Give is a remarkable exception.
I started The Hate U Give back at the end of April, but put it down when I became distracted by spring term events. Also — admittedly — I was afraid of it in some ways. What if I didn’t like it? What if I didn’t connect with it? (It’s a worry that constantly bites at me when a book immediately soars to the top of the bestseller lists. Book world has a tendency to expect that certain books are universally beloved.)
Still, this book always lurked at the back of my mind. Last night, I picked it up during rest hour, and it consumed me. I stayed up way too late after Taps until I finally finished it. Afterwards, I tossed and turned throughout the night, restless because of all the thoughts whirling through my head.
Books that challenge perspective are so important. In a lot of my work at school, I focus a lot on accurate representation. As a representative on student government, I have to be conscious of both those groups within which I fit — privileged, white, Greek, straight, cisgender — and those in which I don’t — minority, independent, gender nonconformist, etc,. In my experience, the best way to do that is to listen, and to dissect my lenses. The world is all about empathy and honesty. So books like this help me out a lot.
The Hate U Give is a lot about fear. Within the first fifty pages, we see Starr lose a best friend. We see her afraid to talk to the cops, get a gun pointed at her, lose her ability to speak. Over the rest of the book, she struggles to reclaim her voice and determine how exactly she feels about the systematic problems plaguing her family, friends, and neighborhood. It’s not an us-versus-them mentality, but a deft exploration of the issues piling up for the black community and how the white community contributes to those, intentionally or not.
Starr is sweet, and she’s a lot of other things too. She does seem a little young for her age, and normally I prefer my protagonists to be a little more aged, but it works for the narrative. I adored her. She’s idealistic and scared, which highlights a lot of the horrors of the events she endures. She’s wise in a lot of ways, and conducts herself articulately when she can and messily when she can’t. Either way, rather earnestly. Confronting what she can, even though she’s terrified.
The division of herself into two people doesn’t feel contrived in a way that many similar separations can come across as. Parts of herself emerge both in her neighborhood and at school, and one side doesn’t outweigh the other. Part of the effectiveness of the novel is that so much of Starr’s identity spills over into both sides, and she cares about maintaining both in ways that feel authentic to her.
Even at school, the way she deals with casual racism or even just the blindness of her friends is empowering and helpful (to me, a girl who probably has overheard similar comments and never noticed their sting.)
So much of Starr’s world is explained matter-of-factly. This is just the way things are. Struggles that she’s always had to deal with, trotted out to the reader humbly and quiet, rejecting the “angry black girl” stereotype although — and the reader knows this — Starr really, really deserves the ability to express her deep frustration at injustice.
The coming-of-age aspect of The Hate U Give contains a satisfying character arc as Starr navigates the world and communities around her. I felt the same way I did when I read Rites of Passage. A solid, powerful girl going against the systems that work against her.
I also loved how tight Starr is with her family, and how intricate her interactions with her friends are. Her family — a tad unconventional, always warm, protective, a little strict — is engaging and heartwarming. They structure a lot of their lives around tumultuous events and how to protect themselves. And even though they’re the odd ones out at their private school, they’re also privileged within the black community, and are careful about how they conduct themselves. (Even their interactions with the neighbors were caring and sometimes political.) I was astonished at how much Starr’s family spills over into every aspect of her life, and I loved them all as characters.
Also, I enjoyed Starr’s relationship with her boyfriend, Chris. He’s white and he tries, but sometimes he still says and does the wrong thing without realizing what she needs. When that happens — when he doesn’t totally get what Starr’s dealing with — they stumble and then sort through it in ways that seem productive and gratifying. They stutter and fumble and work hard to get past interracial issues, especially in terms of family acceptance. So well done.
Perhaps the most eye-opening part of this narrative for me was how paralyzed Starr feels around the cops. The night of the events, she runs through the script her dad drilled into her about how to act around cops, what to say, how to stay safe. After being with Khalil when he was killed, she can’t even look at police barricades or be questioned or see her own father talking to the cops without panicking and reliving those nights in her head.
There’s a lot of cursing in the narrative, but it feels organic and doesn’t disrupt the flow. It did take me a chapter or two to get used to it as someone who isn’t often around those speech patterns. The writing itself is absorbing and contains lots of small, important moments. It’s both discussion- and moment-driven which is a tricky balance to strike. The success of this is largely due to the careful pacing and structure within which all these aspects fit neatly. Watching the ripple effect of Khalil’s death across multiple worlds and areas — the gangs, the riots, the media, the private school, family, police interactions — is both fascinating and horrifying.
The Hate U Give is a solid read for sure. It thoughtfully considers the balance between personal life and collective responsibility. It affected me a lot, so I can only imagine what it means for those who experience similar events to these in their daily lives. If you want a read that will challenge you — or provoke your thoughts about power, race, and identity — I’d recommend it. In plenty of regards (plot, characters, pacing, writing, etc,.), it’s also well put-together. It has a lot of truth in it, simply put, in a way you can’t ignore.