This book is one of the most significant YA novels of our time; it handles its delicate subject matters with honesty and poignancy.
Before I even knew what it was about, it was pretty clear to me that The Hate U Give was a book worth reading. Having already stormed The New York Times YA bestsellers list and received praise from many respected authors in the genre, I was all set to read it by the time of its UK release date. Then I discovered what it was about, and even just in light of recent events in America, Angie Thomas’ narrative is more relevant and significant. I truly believe it should be read by everyone.
The novel tells the story of Starr Carter, a 16 year old whose life seems to be made up of two completely opposing ideals. Having been raised in Garden Heights, a majority black-populated neighbourhood rife with gang wars and drug crime, her private school education in a white suburb is worlds away. It’s hard enough to try and fit in both these worlds, but the lines between both begin to blur when she becomes the only witness in the police shooting of her unarmed childhood friend.
The first thing that needs to be said about this novel is just how damn relevant it is. These last few years have seen a narrative that has always been there emerging to the forefront of the media’s attention. From Ferguson making headlines to the names of unarmed black people who have been shot producing a new hashtag every month, there’s no escaping the very real institutional racism that is rife in the US police force. In response to this, movements such as Black Lives Matter have been given a universal spotlight, even if they have come under scrutiny by some. Thomas explores this throughout her novel. From the ways that Starr herself responds to the police, to comments made about the innocence of the police, to the suggestion of media manipulation, the book asks these big questions, and it does so from a voice firmly grounded within the movement.
Starr is the main character, but she is one of many wonderfully written, fully fleshed-out characters in this book. Her struggle to find her identity both as a POC, but also as someone who has managed to get out of the neighbourhood where she grew up is a struggle that is incredibly real. As a POC myself who has grown up in a middle-class British lifestyle, I am often intrigued at the ways in which I am compelled to present myself among other Asians compared to when with white people. For me, that separation of worlds is a lot subtler than that of Starr’s, but Thomas has a subtlety to the way she describes the difficulties for Starr. It’s knowing just how much slang you can use before they dub you ‘ghetto’. It’s knowing which friends are appropriate to introduce to those from the other world. It’s appreciating the opportunities you have by being educated outside of that world, whilst also retaining a sense of pride regarding your heritage. Starr is only a 16 year old girl; it seems like such a burden to bear, and the book never presents that burden as anything less than it is. She often states how she doesn’t feel brave, despite the fact that everyone says that she is. She confronts her flaws, such as her fear to offer testimony in court or to let her school friends know her closeness to Khalil (the victim of the shooting), but she is also shown to be resilient through everything. She sometimes acts in anger and makes wrong decisions, but she is portrayed as a young woman that is emotionally, and sometimes impulsively, responding to the harrowing events around her. Thomas is incredibly honest in her portrayal of Starr – this girl isn’t perfect, but she’s real.
Alongside Starr, there are a whole other host of incredible characters. I think something so beautiful that is shown through some of these characters is not defining people who’ve committed crimes as being just a criminal. A clear example of this is the character of Big Mav, Starr’s Dad. Despite having been to prison for being part of a gang, he has turned his life around, having become a well respected figure in the community, and a man who teaches his children to fight for equality and justice. It’s seen as being past on to the next generation in the character of DeVante – a young gang member that the Carter family help escape from his lifestyle. As well as this you have the conflict that arises from Starr’s uncle Carlos being a police officer, and from Starr’s boyfriend Chris being white. Every character is well developed and demonstrates clearly that people cannot be fully understood and explained just from one label on their character.
I think that summarises so much of the book, to be honest. Everything is so much more than it seems, but not in a mysterious way, with riddles and the supernatural. It’s more than it seems because every situation and every person in this life is a lot more complex than the media can show. Therefore, it’s often the case that we ourselves do not try to look beyond that way of telling the story and lack seeing that complexity for ourselves. This book encourages to reader to throw aside stereotypes and see things as they are. It’s refreshing, it’s raw, and it’s an absolute delight.
The title derives from a concept which Tupac Shakur came up with. He said that THUG LIFE was an acronym for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody’. The Hate U Give examines that hate and examines its effects in a true to life way, that I will say time and time again – needs to be read by as many people as possible.
The Hate U Give, published by Walker Books UK, is out now. A film adaptation is currently in the works with Amandla Stenberg attached to play the lead.