The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give book cover

The Hate U Give is a book about racial inequality and injustices, but it is also a complex story about love, family, and survival. This is a must-read book for anyone over the age of 14. Bring Kleenex.

Chapter book, realistic fiction
Interest level: Young adult, ages 14 and up
5 out of 5 stars

Angie Thomas is a debut author who has crafted a well-written novel that takes a look at racial issues in America. Thomas has given a voice and a story to the Black Lives Matter movement that has the ability to reach people of different races, no matter the cultural space you occupy.

Starr is the 16-year-old main character of the story. She exists in two different cultures. The location of her home is in the ghetto where she is known as “Big Mav’s daughter who works in the store.” The other part of her life exists in her mostly-white private school, where she tries to fit in by making sure she doesn’t sound “ghetto.” Rarely do her two different worlds intersect.

One night a childhood friend is giving her a ride home from a party. The scene in the car is warm and sweet as these two people who have drifted away reconnect over childhood memories. Khalil is concerned about getting her home and away from the trouble of the party. As the lights of a police car flash through the back window, the entire tone of the scene changes. Starr begins reciting the protocol that her parents drilled into her from the age of 12…what to do if you encounter the police. “Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you.”

As a parent with two white children, I have never had that talk with my children. Never even occurred to me that anyone had to have that talk with their children until about six years ago when I read about it. That would be the blessing of white privilege: not assuming that if my child is pulled over for a traffic violation that there is even the remote possibility he or she will end up dead.

Khalil and Starr are treated like criminals from the minute the officer stops the car. As a reader, you watch the scene escalate, unable to halt the horror you know is coming, until Khalil is shot dead as he tries to make sure that Starr is doing okay.

This part of Starr’s story we see constantly in the news. In fact, just yesterday, a story emerged from Georgia that shows video of a man with his hands up being punched and, when handcuffed, stomped on by police officers: Or you can watch this video of an unarmed black man who was shot while lying down with his hands in the air

What Thomas has done is take the reader into the lives of Starr and Khalil. To the reader, they are not two unknown people that the police and media can portray as problems that were going to die one way or another. We, the reader, are in the car with them. We know how Khalil is being protective and helping Starr. We know how terrified she is. We watch Khalil as he is shot and realize that Starr can’t save him. And then we sit with her as the blood leaves his body and the officer points the gun at her.

I truly believe that you cannot read this book and come out unchanged. I believe that Black Lives Matter; I did before I read The Hate U Give. My understanding of the world was even further enlightened by reading Angie Thomas’ book.

I never noticed before how the media will dig into the past of the black victims of white violence, even if it is irrelevant to the incident, and broadcast any negative they can find. Take Timothy Caughman, killed on the street in Manhattan by a sword-wielding white supremacist. The killer admitted to killing Caughman for no other reason than he was black. Yet the media, reporting on Caughman’s death, included the information that 15 years ago he had been arrested. You can read more thoughts on this case here: Caughman’s arrest 15 years ago played no part in his death. So why report it? Would it have been reported if Caughman was white?

Angie Thomas sheds light on so many issues of racial inequality and systemic racism: police brutality, victim blaming, poverty, gangs, code-switching, bias, stereotypes — and she does it all within a story that has characters that are deep and complicated and so very human. Readers will relate to the characters in the story.

The Hate U Give is a story that celebrates family and the strength of communities. It shows that human beings are more than their past mistakes. And The Hate U Give is a celebration that an author of color was able to speak out in her #ownvoice. An authentic voice of someone who is opening up her community to the world with the hope of making this a better place.

In an interview in New York magazine, Thomas was asked why she thinks there has been an increase in the publication of books that deal with racial issues, and this is her response:

These are the issues that teenagers are vocal about. They’re finding their voices. We’d be doing them an injustice if we weren’t giving them the mirror to see themselves in. These kids will be the ones to run this country. In one year, two years, four years, they’re going to be voters. If we start building empathy in them, maybe some of the things we have to fight for now, we won’t have to in the future.

I am hoping that Thomas’ successful novel will inspire more people to write diverse books that share their #ownvoice. I hope that enough young adults read books like The Hate U Give so that we can change the future of the country with empathy.

The Hate U Give is a book about racial inequality and injustices, but it is also a deep story about love, family, and survival. I am so thankful that Angie Thomas wrote this book. May she get all the love at awards time!

The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray, a imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN 978-0-06-249853-3

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