My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a work of fiction, but to borrow from the beloved and long-running NBC show Law & Order: SVU, it’s a story line, (or several storylines quite frankly) that’s ripped from the headlines.
Starr Carter has suffered the trauma of witnessing the shooting deaths of not one, but two close friends a few years apart. The sixteen year old lives in a neighborhood riddled with gang violence and drugs, but she attends a majority white prep school in the suburbs. As such she feels as if she has two identities: the one her school friends know and the one her childhood friends and family know. The stress of keeping both her social circles separate becomes exasperated and impossible when she’s the sole witness to her best friend Khalil’s death at the hands of a trigger happy police officer. The boy was standing outside his car, unarmed and shot in the back three times. “They leave Khalil’s body in the street like it’s an exhibit.” We’ve definitely seen this in the news.
As has been the case in real life for innocent victims like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and dozens if not hundreds of others that may not make national headlines, the case sparks protests, riots, and other civil unrest. Khalil is demonized as a thug and drug dealer by the media, while others automatically side with the police officer, who later falsely claims he thought a hair brush was a handgun. Starr and her parents find themselves in the predicament of fearing for her privacy, safety, and life after being thrust into the limelight by the media. She’s torn between wanting to defend the reputation of her friend and to speak the truth about the night’s events. It’s her voice against that of a police officer’s.
In addition to grieving the loss of her close friend since grade school, the reluctant activist has to deal with teenage angst. Her interracial relationship with her fellow sneaker- and Fresh-Prince-of-Bel-Air-loving boyfriend is fraught with new tension because he is and she isn’t ready to be intimate; a toxic and low-key racist friendship at school is slowly dying; and Starr feels as if she has to fight for the attention and affection of her older half-brother Seven, who is her father’s child from a previous relationship.
I love when the title of a book is explained in the novel. It comes from Khalil’s argument to Starr about the relevance of Tupac and his music, still and even twenty years after his death. Tupac had “Thug Life” tattooed across his abdomen. The letters are an acronym for The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. “Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” I love the fact that Angie Thomas portrayed Khalil as a thinking and sensitive young man who cared about his family and friends because the reader soon learns that the world will see him differently. Again, this sounds familiar, where only a few media outlets choose to portray the humanity of the victim, often forgetting that the victim is the victim.
I added The Hate U Give to my To Read list because I kept seeing it appear on lists, and I knew a movie adaptation was in the works. This bookworm loves going to the movies. If I know beforehand that the movie is a book, I’m all over it—the exception being superhero movies. However, I can’t do the reverse of watching a movie, then reading the book.
I wasn’t expecting the librarian to refer me to the Young Adult section when I asked for The Hate U Give. Granted YA books are garnering just as much attention as adult novels, but for some reason I had assumed it was geared towards an older audience.
The second shock was that the novel tackles present day racial and social issues, such as low income living, gang and police violence, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It makes for great conversation and teachable moments between adults and young adults, such as teachers and students or parents and their children. I’ve been spending way too much time in the land of (celebrity) memoirs, getting transported decades back and need to read more current fiction.
The final pleasant surprise was that the day I finished reading The Hate U Give, the announcement of it being longlisted for a National Book Award was made public. It was all over my Twitter feed. More often than not, when I come across book list recommendations, I feel discouraged because I’ve read one or two of the books, if I’m lucky. The rest of the list is usually books are on my Goodreads To Read list and if I’m really serious, books already on my bookshelf. No regrets in pushing this one to the top of the list.