This will eventually be a review of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, the current and deserved ruler of the NYT Bestseller’s List. There are books that come along and are earth-shaterringly relevant and timely, and this is it. This book is now, this book is important, and it needs to be read with an open mind and an open heart. It is a perspective and worldview that might be unfamiliar, but it is one that more people need to read, hear, and believe.
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.
But first, let’s talk about me.
If you want to give my job a fancy title, I’m a civil rights investigator. Narrowing it down, I work in the field of Title IX, which is a federal statute to respond to and prevent discrimination based on sex/gender/sexual orientation/gender identity/gender non-conformity in the higher education setting. Even more particularly, I respond to complaints of sexual harassment, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking made by a student. I spend a lot of my time talking about consent, rape culture, and healthy relationships.
It means that justice, access, and equity are huge values in my life. I also believe in an intersectional approach to my work, which means that even if my job description says my role is about gender, I look at someone’s life and how all their identities factor into their response, as well as how all of their identities inform what and why something happened to them. I can never let myself be pigeonholed into the thought “this is only about their gender” because rarely is that true. It also means that I am really intentional in being aware and informed about multiple identities and experiences so that I can find the best way to help a person tell their story, and communicate impact. There is so much about the work that I do that was impacted by THUG.
It reminded me of everything that I am fighting for and against, of who it is I am meant to take care of, and who I am meant to raise up so that they can be heard because I am not the speaker, I am the platform. The fact that this story is being lifted up makes it worth it to get up in the morning because I can hope against hope, for the first time in months, that I am not just banging my head against a wall. Change is coming, and change is here.
Okay, back to the book. Things I want to make clear from the start: I believe police violence is a problem. I know and work with some truly amazing police officers, but their role does not mean they get an exception for killing someone. It doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean there is not a cultural indoctrination within the law enforcement community to demonize colored bodies (and even officers of color buy into this indoctrination). We are not perfect, they are not perfect. There is room for progress, and a greater need to protect people of color from unfair enforcement and violence. BLACK LIVES MATTER – all lives matter, but we are failing people of color by refusing to acknowledge that they are disproportionately victims of violence. This is fact, not open for discussion, sorry not sorry.
So on that point, please recognize that Starr’s experiences are not a stretch of the imagination. The fiction contained in these pages is truer than you might know. If you are questioning the #ownvoices movement, this should prove their point to you.
I love Starr. I love that she is so self-aware, but that doesn’t make her perfect or easy, it makes her human. It makes her a trustworthy narrator, and that was essential to this story. Because you trust Starr so much that others doubting her feels more than personal, it feels political. That is one of the true triumphs of this novel is making the personal political, and making you confront how that might be operating in your life. There’s a lot of messages, a lot of purpose and moral, written into the language and fabric of the narrative but it’s delicate. It makes you step away from the stories you’ve seen in the news, and instead stick with an individual person and their experience. By humanizing the one, it gives you the opportunity to humanize all.
The family dynamics are also easy to relate to – inter-generational conflict, the sins of the parents being visited on the children, how family expands and contracts, the ways in which we grow and change with our siblings, and how much they influence our decisions and reactions. This family, the Carters and their extended ties, are so tight and so beautiful. I loved reading about this family, because I could see my life and my family reflected there, and I could understand and follow the logic of their decisions, even when they were scary and might not work out. Lisa and Maverick are good parents and a good relationship, and I get why Starr called them her OTP.
The complexity of friendships for teenagers was also a wonderful aspect of AT’s writing. When you’re a teenager it can be incredibly difficult to confront problematic behavior or to risk losing friends because you disagree or don’t follow, or knowing that you drifted from or failed someone because it was easy to do it. That’s reality, and watching Starr maneuver those situations might help others – I think she’s braver than your average person (which is a comment I think Starr would find annoying) but it was also clear that her bravery influenced others. The bystander effect is real, y’all.
Some of my favorite things: Starr’s mom, Lisa; any and all of the Harry Potter references (the House gang theory is one I have believed in for years); all the times I had to Google shoes so that I had a visual; having an excuse to play the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song repeatedly; DeVonte (he might be my favorite, after Starr); that family is more than blood and titles; the only act of violence in the novel I condoned and in fact, shouted out loud in excitement (it’s a punch in the face that is…magnificent and frankly, earned. My anti-violence inner-self is a work in progress, friends), THE LAST LINE ON PAGE 290.
I cannot wait to read whatever AT publishes next. Her writing pulls you in right from the first line – it was the kind of work that didn’t provide unnecessary details, but focused on what I needed to know to FEEL like I was there, both physically and emotionally. I felt like I inhabited Starr’s world and saw through her eyes – there are so many emotional blows and I f***ing felt them all, but I also felt her joy and laughter, her moments of recovery, and her moments of self-forgiveness. I know that a book is dynamic when my husband can’t keep up with my emotions – one second I’m crying (from both sadness and happiness in this one) and then I’m laughing, and there was also a lot of swearing.
I loved a lot of the characters in this book, but seriously Starr made my top 5 characters, all time. She’s still beat out by Tally, but Tally saved my life, so it’s kind of hard to let that crown shift. Maybe tied for first.
5/5 read, no question. GO GET THIS NOW. REQUEST IT AT YOUR LIBRARY. Bring it to your school, your community, your organizations. Let the conversation happen.