The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This instant YA classic was on my TBR long before its release date of February 2017. Since my book club wasn’t scheduled to read it until November of 2017, I decided I would wait until then (now) to read it. I’ve been waiting, wanting, and excited to read this book for a long time. To say it was worth the wait is the understatement of the year. My wait was serendipitous. My book club meets today, November 19, the day that author, Angie Thomas, is speaking at one of our local libraries and we will be there. I cannot wait to hear from and meet the woman that wrote this book. I know it’s all been said before, but The Hate U Give is a master work, the most important YA book of our time (yep, I said it), and one that could change the world if everyone read it (yep, I said it).
Starr is 16 and lives in an urban, poor, black neighborhood with her parents and brothers. Her parents want their children to receive a better education than they can get at the local high school so they send them to a private suburban prep school 45 minutes away. Starr lives two separate lives and she works very hard to keep them that way. When she and her childhood best friend, Khalil, leave a neighborhood party together after shots were fired, the evening ends with Khalil being shot and killed by a white police officer after the unarmed Khalil is pulled over for having a broken taillight. At home, Starr is the witness, the grieving friend of Khalil, and a participant in a national news story. At school, many of her classmates don’t even realize the neighborhood where Khalil Harris (the suspected gang member and drug dealer) was shot by a police officer is the same neighborhood where Starr lives. Not even her (white) boyfriend, Chris. What follows is not only the story of Justice for Khalil and protests and riots and the issues of impoverished inner-city youth and police brutality and the stark differences between opportunities available for the haves and the have-nots, etc., etc., but it is also the story of a 16-year-old girl trying to navigate through family, friendships, the future, her romantic relationship - all that normal teenage stuff - with the complications of race thrown in.
The power of this book is how it is going to speak to teens. The details that Angie Thomas throws in, like Starr’s obsession with Jordans (she has an impressive shoe collection); she, her friends’, and brothers’ Harry Potter references, these details make Starr seem like a normal teenage girl. Even during a riot, when Starr is in a car with two black guys and one white guy, they start joking around (they give Chris a white-guy test that is hilarious) - that seems like something a group of real teens would do. Yep, they are in a dangerous situation but they are just kids. I think white teens are going to walk away from this book feeling like, “They are just like me” (Lord, help us all, I hope and pray they already feel like that because, y’know, WE ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS). The characters in this books are just so relatable. By far, my favorite example of this is with Starr’s family. I loved this family so much I can’t even think of another fictional family to whom to compare them. Starr’s momma is just as scary and loving as your momma. Starr’s dad, even though he is an ex-con and former gang member, tells just as many dad jokes as your dad. When these five family members are gathered together in their living room watching an NBA game, rooting for their favorite players and trash talking each other, readers will think, “This could be a glimpse inside the living room of family”. Crazy powerful moments.
I laughed and cried through this whole book. I was MOVED. I highly recommend listening to this book for the maximum emotional experience. Narrator Bahni Turpin is one of the best. She will put you in Garden Heights. You’ll feel like you’re right next to Starr, living what she’s living.
There were several passages of this book that had me comparing it to To Kill a Mockingbird (especially the conclusion, “Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples.” Oh, my heart). It got me thinking about how it’s probably time to find a more current book than that one to teach teens those powerful themes. And The Hate U Give would be the perfect replacement. Sadly, that will probably never happen because of the language (which I would not change - these characters need to talk the way they do) and the controversy. Something to think about.
Finally, living 30 minutes away from Ferguson, Missouri, it was easy for me to imagine that setting for many of this book’s events. Not long after the Michael Brown verdict, my teenage son and I needed to visit a location in Ferguson. I never had a reason to go to Ferguson before so, of course, I imagined it to be a run-down, burned-up, hovel where no one would ever want to live. Boy, was I wrong. What we found was an old but loved neighborhood where residents cared for their property and took pride in their town. It was downright charming. My point is, prejudice, society, and the media puts preconceived notions in our heads. Open your mind and see things for yourself. Befriend someone who is different from you. Consider life from their point of view. Like Atticus Finch suggests, “ . . . climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Let’s love others.