The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: A stunning debut that neither flinches from telling one story of why the Black Lives Matter movement matters nor does it preach while doing so. This book is every bit as good as you’ve been told it is.
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.
I expected commentary on social justice, on friends, and on family but what I didn’t expect was this: “There are just some places where it’s not enough to be me. Either version of me.” There’s one Starr Carter who belongs in Garden Heights (aka the ghetto) and Williamson (home to Williamson Prep). One paragraph in and Thomas reeled me in on a personal level, which I wouldn’t have expected. I’m far, far, far beyond being sixteen. I’m not black. I’m not straight. I’m not cis. But the moment I read this, I absolutely got—without a doubt—what it feels like to have to be multiple people. To play multiple roles. The Alex that shows up to work is very different than the Alex who turns up to family events is very different than the Alex you might meet for a cup of coffee.
This is part of the feeling of what it means to be “other” and, I suspect, it is a thing more people experience than not. Which brings up a good point. To feel comfortable in one’s own skin and to feel appropriate is a rare experience for us humans. What is most relevant about this is that Starr Carter, our heroine, is someone who would be considered a superstar. She’s smart, clever, athletic, beautiful, thoughtful, funny, a good friend. And she recognizes this. But at the same time, she’s always choosing which Starr she has to be. So, she’s never really herself.
Except with Chris. Who’s white. And her boyfriend. One she’s not supposed to have, according to her father. Who’s a patriarch, an ex-con, a community leader, and tough af. Here, again, she’s split, feeling guilty not just for having connected with someone of a different race but for having connected at all.
All of this is happening before “the incident” or, otherwise referred to as the murder of her childhood friend, and first love, Khalil, who is gunned down five feet in front of her, his hairbrush confused for a gun, his query about whether she was okay confused with a threat to the police officer who fired on him.
It isn’t enough to call this book relevant and definitely not enough to call this book brave in the face of personal, community, and national fear. I wish I could say this book was shocking but what happens in this book happens so frequently it is jarringly familiar. This book is an endeavor wrapped up in a box and bright, pretty paper. One that when the lid is popped open, shouts out, “Do you understand this yet? Can you help make this stop?” Then it adds, “Please?”
I highly recommend The Hate U Give (THUG) for any reader, from middle grade on. And when I mean on, I mean ON: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Share this one around. It needs to be read. If you have a similar experience to mine, you might have a greater urgency to discuss what happens within these pages and beyond. Another upside to reading THUG—you’ll also have a greater vocabulary to do exactly that.
What you may not like: The reasons why this book needs to exist in the first place. And, I suppose, there’s this: In reading other reviews, I have seen some readers pick-up on a thread of reverse racism. I don’t agree with the assessment it is included in this book, largely because the cultural critique is present, it is evaluated, and after having a series of discussions the dynamic between characters shifts, leading to the inclusion of other races into each other’s community.
What you will love: My favorite part about this story is how dynamic these characters are in relation to each other. They show up in ways I didn’t expect, from Khalil’s open fondness for Starr to Chris’ plea for Starr to give him a chance to show up and be all she needs him to be, from Starr’s brother Seven’s mother’s surreptitious way of protecting her children to Starr’s ex-best friend’s unwillingness to apologize. Understanding the cultural construct of race plays an understandably large role in this story but even more importantly, Thomas modeled what it looks like to reach beyond this.
Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.
Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra