The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Length: 444 pages
Released February 2017
Blurb via GoodReads:
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.
The Hate U Give is a difficult book to read. Starr’s struggles are heart-wrenching and all too common in the real world. Certainly the most sensational aspect of the story is the unjust death of Starr’s friend, Khalil. The trauma of losing a close friend in such a violent way and with so little hope of seeing justice is certainly more than any sixteen-year-old should have to handle. However, she is dealing with so much more than that.
Angie Thomas does an excellent job of illustrating how Starr feels the need to police her behavior in differing ways around different groups of people. To a certain extent, this is a universal human struggle; we all show different sides of ourselves to different people. With Starr, however, her race complicates this. Being a young black girl in a mostly white school, she is ever conscious of how her race tinges her classmates’ perception of her behavior. White kids can use slang; if Starr uses slang, she’s “ghetto.” White kids can get angry sometimes; if Starr is angry, she’s a “sassy black girl.” She must hold herself to a higher standard than her classmates if she can even begin to hope to get an equal amount of respect.
At home, Starr is almost equally uncomfortable with herself. Going to the rich white kid school on the other side of town makes her feel alienated from the black kids in her own neighborhood. She is continually accused of thinking she’s “too good” for the rest of them, of abandoning her roots for her school friends. With these conflicting pressures, Starr seems to be left feeling like she has nowhere she can be her authentic self.
All of this is woven throughout the story from start to finish and colors Starr’s interactions with those around her. Khalil’s death and the indifference of her classmates bring this into sharper focus.
The social issues in this book are handled with great sensitivity. Khalil’s death happens at the beginning of the book, but is fully fleshed out as a character through Starr’s memories as she grapples with the way the media essentially puts him on trial for his own murder. Starr remembers a 12-year-old boy at her birthday party. She remembers a little boy who was let down by his negligent mother, but kept on loving her anyway. She wants the world to know that Khalil.
The structure and pacing of this novel work very well. Starr is an incredibly sympathetic protagonist, and Khalil is presented lovingly as well, mistakes and all. Linguistically, I liked that this was believable coming from a 16-year-old; I like that Starr sounded her age, not a bit younger or older. The language is not overly complicated, Starr curses about as much as you’d expect from a teenager going through trauma, and she uses slang and Harry Potter references in one breath. The topic is dark but with a underlying sense of hope; Starr is passionate and wants to fight for change, despite being terrified.
This is a good book, but more than that, it’s an important book. It challenges us to deal with timely social issues and practice empathy, something that could not possibly be more vital in today’s world.