The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“The Hate U – the letter U – Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. Meaning that what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give, p. 17

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has quickly become a wildly popular and highly acclaimed Young Adult Contemporary novel. Released in Canada on February 28, 2017, The Hate U Give quickly found itself being referred to as riveting, stunning, important, heart-breaking and powerful – and for good reason. In The Hate U Give, Thomas provides a brilliant look at the complex issues of race, class, age and gender.

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

It seems like lately stories of police brutality and societal injustice against people of colour are ever-present in the media. Now, perhaps more than ever, people are questioning the choices our society makes, and they’re pushing back against their oppressors. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas explores one such story, following Starr Carter as she navigates her way through life following the unlawful murder of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Thomas explores a lot in this novel – from Starr’s experience of grief, to her lived experience as a person of colour dealing with white, upper-class law officials, to her experiences within her own community following Khalil’s death. It could be a biography, that’s how realistic this book feels. The characters have depth, the plot isn’t overly dramatic but still exciting.Thomas also highlights the complexity of the experiences facing Starr, and how society, as it is now, can make action in such situations incomprehensibly complex. This story is real, it’s powerful, and it’s complex.

One aspect of this book which was both powerful and important was the portrayal of Starr’s family – unlike many YA books, Thomas does not sideline Starr’s family, but instead creates a heart-warming and important dynamic family life which is more reflective of the truth behind families than is often displayed in YA. Readers will love the family dynamic in this book. I think it honestly might be the most healthy, realistic, close-knit family I’ve ever read in a YA. Starr and her siblings may tease each other, but they protect each other fiercely. They’re willing to fight for one another, and to give up their own happiness for their family. Starr’s parents may not always get along, and they most certainly fight, but they are head over heels in love, and fiercely devoted to their family, each other and their children. They always attempt to do what is best for their children, even if it may not be their own personal preference, or what they would have chosen for themselves. It was so nice and refreshing to have just a scene of a family sitting down to watch sports together, throwing a pool party, always working together, something that is normally so sidelined in YA Fiction.

“Good-byes hurt the most when the other person’s already gone” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give, p. 67.

Following her witness of Khalil’s murder, Starr is faced with a nearly complete upheaval of her life – and not only because of the opposing forces pushing the to testify, or not, in Khalil’s case. No, Starr witness a murder, and she is struggling with something very human – grief. Readers will witness Starr struggle to decide what to do, and will connect with her over her grief. Starr experiences all the typical stages of grief –  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. All while facing pressure, both emotional and physical, from all sides. She quickly accepts Khalil’s death as the truth, but soon finds herself both angry and depressed, pulling away from her family, her boyfriend and her school friends. She finds herself angry with the white, well-to-do students at her school, including her boyfriend, who don’t understand Khalil’s death, and seem to view it as an opportunity to bandy about the inconsistent support for the “Black Lives Matter” sentiment. And Starr struggles to say goodbye to Khalil, who is gone, but not forgotten.

“I didn’t know a dead person could be charged in his own murder” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give, p. 288.

While Thomas does focus a lot on Starr’s lived experiences following her witnessing his murder, Thomas also challenges the reader to think about society – to think about how, in many cases, victims of police brutality and murder have been portrayed as the criminal, when they are in fact the victim. Undeniably, the social commentary and political criticism are what makes this book so strong, and so memorable. The reader explores how Starr deals with the political and social aftermath of witnessing Khalil being shot by a cop for… doing absolutely nothing wrong. After she witnesses his murder. Her fear is palpable as she confronts a system that she knows is working against her – a system she’s always been warned would be more likely to kill people who look like her than help them. She’s afraid to speak out, yet angry that Khalil’s murderer could escape justice. Like so many others before him. The reader sees, through Starr’s eyes, how the media presents young black men as guilty until proven innocent – and when you’re poor, black, and from a rough neighborhood, it’s virtually impossible to appear innocent.

Which brings us to the most important part of this book – the reminder to check one’s privilege. Now, we could talk about how this book was inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, or how Thomas unapolegetically interrogates a subject worth investigation – racial bias in the justice system. But the fact of the matter is, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an unforgettable and powerful book that will open the eyes of the reader to aspects of white privilege, and privilege in general, that most readers will never have considered. Being Canadian, as well as being white, and having been raised in a firmly middle-class, safe neighbourhood, I have had the privilege of not having to deal with any of the things Starr deals with on a day to day basis (such as drive-by shootings, impoverished living conditions, the murders of friends and neighbours, racism, alienation and police brutality, just to name a few), but the experience of being alongside her during The Hate U Give as she grapples with the injustice of it all gave me a completely new understanding of what is going on in America and around the world. This book constantly challenged me to check my privilege, and constantly reminded me of how fortunate I am to have the life I have.

This is the kind of book that should be in the hands of teens, youth, and generally everyone, making them aware of current issues, educating them on pressing matters, and encouraging them to get involved to create change. The Hate U Give poses many important questions about racism, police brutality, discrimination, and prejudice, while also answering them in a comprehensive and inviting way. Thomas challenged readers, and I have seen so many readers talking about how this book made them think “I never thought about it this way”, “When you put it this way, that actually makes a lot of sense.”, and “I’m glad someone finally told me this.” I truly don’t think readers can, or will, leave this book without something that will have challenged their preconceived notions.

It was time for someone to write a book dealing with social issues of race and discrimination like the ones in The Hate U Give for a younger audience – for teens whose peers experience these things on a daily basis. Angie Thomas’ account of Starr’s story is heart-breaking, powerful and utterly truthful, right from the first page until the very last word. There’s nothing easy about reading this book – nothing simple about its content. But it needs to be read, to be shared, to be talked about. So if you only read one book this year, make sure it’s this one (5/5).

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