The Hate U Give
By: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: February 28th 2017
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 a book I knew I’ve needed to read since last summer–and yes, needed. It hasn’t dropped off the bestseller list since it came out (almost 70 weeks now), there’s a blockbuster coming out in October starring Amandla Stenberg, and the word for the last year is that it’s a must-read. I managed to pick up a signed copy at Blue Bicycle Books last fall, and this summer I resolved to read it. So I picked it up–and just about finished it in one sitting.
I read it immediately after Dear Martin (yes, I was on a roll), and there were a lot of plot similarities. Both of them are black kids from the hood, attending majority-white schools with lots of wealth and trying to resolve the two worlds they live in–an attempt that is blown apart by their witnessing of an act of police brutality. In Starr’s case, it’s when her childhood best friend Khalil is killed by a cop in front of her. But where Dear Martin generally packs a lot into a few words, The Hate U Give goes into a much deeper examination of systemic racism, the act of speaking out, and how black victims of police violence are degraded and their deaths justified. Starr isn’t motivated to speak out because of Khalil’s death–she wants to slip under the radar immediately afterwards–but by his classification by the media as a drug dealer, gang banger and thug, as if any of those decree that he deserved his death.
Everything revolves around Starr, her struggle to keep her ‘two worlds’ from colliding and her struggle to grieve appropriately for Khalil and to do right by him. The main arc of the story is Starr realizing that she’s the only chance for Khalil’s story to be told and finding the courage to find her voice. But she’s surrounded by a truly wonderful cast of characters. Her family is incredible–her parents are loving, deeply in love with each other, encouraging of Starr and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure she’s OK. Her brothers Seven and Sekhani are both also believable, and their dynamic is great. And her extended family–her nana, aunt and uncle, and not-really-sister round things out. Every single one of them is so vividly and realistically written that they stop feeling like characters and start feeling like people. It’s also made clear that Starr’s family is her touchstone, the people who keep her grounded. At the same time, they also add a lot to the narrative. Her father’s position as a former gang member puts him squarely in the center of hood politics, for instance. Her Uncle’s position as a cop makes Starr examine her relationship to police in the aftermath of the shooting–but her experience also forces him to reexamine the priorities of the department.
Although a lot of the main action and tension takes place in Garden Heights, I also liked Starr’s interactions at school. Again, like Dear Martin, there’s a part where she’s examining her schoolmate’s opinions of black culture and dealing with some thinly veiled racism–like using a protest of Khalil’s death as an excuse to skip school. But I liked how Starr also finds allies (as in a literal ‘minority alliance’) and finds her voice enough to speak out against her racist former friend. I also liked her figuring-out of her relationship with her boyfriend Chris in the context of everything else–and how he stepped up to the plate and proved he was willing to support her in every way that she needed.
Another thing that I thought Angie Thomas did beautifully was write Garden Heights as not just a place that everyone was willing to leave, but that she showed the beauty in it as well. She didn’t flinch from talking about the projects or the violence, and the book takes an unflinching look at the destructive role that drugs and gangs play. But there was joy also, like the party where everyone gets up and dances. There’s the mural of Black Jesus looking over the neighborhood, the close-knit connections between people and their willingness to help each other out. And the crab-bucket mentality didn’t exist, which I loved. When someone accused Starr’s family of being a sellout for wanting to leave the ghetto, they argued back that they were just moving, not leaving, and that they would remain invested in the community. There was also a real appreciation for black culture that I adored–the discussion of the Black Panthers, the prayers to Black Jesus, a deep love of music and dance. The title is inspired by Tupac’s view of Thug Life–The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everybody–and there are numerous paragraphs discussing Tupac’s quote and the role of systemic racism in Starr’s world. There’s a lot of discussion of the extent to which black violence and black suffering is shown in popular media, but Angie Thomas also showed unapologetic, celebratory black joy. I loved it.
All in all, this was a book that I should have read much sooner. It’s clear why this is a bestseller to rival Harry Potter–the main theme of speaking out and the #ownvoices insight into black culture make this a riveting, relevant and downright revelatory book. I was already excited for the film before even reading this, but now I can barely wait for October (Amandla Stenburg can do no wrong in my eyes, the cast looks AMAZING, and the fact that they took the time to recast and reshoot after the actor who plays Chris was caught out for saying racist stuff shows that they are committed to do right by this). And at the same time, I can barely wait for Angie Thomas’ next book On the Come Up, which sounds very different from THUG, but I have no doubt it’ll be as amazing.
My final plug: if you haven’t read this yet, do it NOW. It should probably be required reading in schools–maybe replace Huck Finn on everyone’s school reading lists? It sounds like poetic justice.
Also, if you’re like me and fall in love with the book, don’t forget to also support the movie! It has a fantastic cast, is directed by a POC, and just the trailer destroyed me emotionally (yes, that’s a compliment).
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.