The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Genre: Young Adult
Maturity Level: 5
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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.
This is probably the most important book I’ve ever read. It’s also brilliant. It felt like real life, probably because it is real life. But it was difficult and uncomfortable, and really forced me to look critically at myself, what I believe, and the way I act. Whether this is “your thing” or not, I think The Hate U Give should be required reading for all Americans.
The characters leapt off the page. Thomas wrote the characters, especially the dialogue, exactly how they sound in the real world. At times that could be jarring. Usually dialogue is written differently than you would speak, especially slang and colloquialisms. But both cultures were very raw and real, and the people who came from them were too. The teens in particular really resonated with me. Thomas is obviously still in touch with how teenagers think and feel, something I think a lot of YA authors are missing.
I especially related to the character of Hailey, Starr’s white friend who occasionally says or does things Starr finds racist. I know I made plenty a fried chicken joke in high school, back when I was too young and immature to understand why it was hurtful. I’ve unfollowed people who post too much political stuff because it’s negative and doesn’t lift up my privileged life. I’m so glad that Thomas included Hailey, because she really gave me the chance to look at myself and grow. I wish she had scaled down her behavior a bit at the end, because I worry other white girls (especially young, immature white girls) might not be able to recognize themselves in her, thinking “well I would never say anything THAT bad!” But on the other hand, Hailey taking things as far as she did is a real warning to white readers.
However, all of the characters gave me an insight in to a life that I can never understand. Starr, her parents, and her friends in Garden Heights showed me a small sliver of what it’s like to be black and poor. While I can never really understand, I can now empathize, and I think that’s one of the things makes this book so relevant. If the characters had been executed less well, if they had been less believable, it wouldn’t have been able to make such an impact.
As I said, this was an uncomfortable book. Police brutality can never be an easy subject matter. But Thomas didn’t stop there. This book is about what systematic disenfranchisement means. It’s about why poor people stay poor. It’s about drug abuse, gang violence, and why those things happen. It’s about what it means to be black in a white world. And I think those things, even more than the subject of police brutality, are what make The Hate U Give an important book. There’s something for everyone to learn from here, regardless of your background or race.
As if that wasn’t enough, that’s not all.
The Hate U Give is a powerful coming of age story that was emotional and beautiful. I couldn’t keep my eyes dry. Starr learns that she matters and her voice can be heard, but she also deals with the very normal issues of losing your friends, learning to love and trust someone, how to relate to your family. She is living two lives, her black life and her school life, being two different people. Eventually she learns that they don’t have to be separate, that she doesn’t have to be separate. I love Starr, and I wish that I could give her a big ol’ hug, though I know she wouldn’t want it from a teacher.
The Hate U Give is sure to stand the test of time. As hard and raw as it is, it has already taken its place next to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple in American culture.