Book: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: YA / fiction
What it’s about: Starr has always known she lives a divided life: there’s the Starr she is around her family and friends, who worries more about gang violence than proper grammar, and the Starr she is around all the white kids at school, who plays basketball and avoids slang at all costs. Then she witnesses the death of her best friend, Khalil, shot by a police officer on their way home from a party. Starr’s two worlds start to collide as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her friend and all the ways people try to twist it. With gang members threatening her and the police trying to silence her, will Starr finally be able to find her real voice and speak out? And even if she does, will it make a difference?
My thoughts: How do I love this book? Let me count the ways. Its important message, its beautiful writing, its great representation, its strong voice. It’s just really freaking good, guys. Some books are just so well done and timely that they become instant classics. This is one of them.
At the forefront of The Hate U Give, aside from a great story, is the issue of racism in the United States. We can’t talk about the book without talking about that, because in a lot of ways the book is a platform for exploring and understanding those issues. I think one of the greatest powers of a good book is to inspire empathy in the reader. It allows you to feel and understand things that you might not have been able to otherwise. You can read about a character with experiences, feelings, or beliefs that are different from yours and, if you open yourself up to it, you might walk away with greater understanding and empathy for real-life people in similar situations. That is always an important and powerful tool, but especially when you’re talking about something with actual contemporary ramifications– like racial tensions and police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement–it becomes even more so.
I think a lot of people– white people in particular, yes– have a lot of disconnects when it comes to discussions of racial inequality. “Racism” has become this word that people cringe away from so violently that they refuse to acknowledge their own internalized biases and privileges instead of trying to fight back against them. Only in acknowledging our failings can we ever overcome them. If you’re too scared to acknowledge your internalized racism (because guess what we all live in a racist society) then you can’t even begin to try to eliminate it, and ultimately you’re more likely to actually be racist. Think about the recent controversy over the firing of transgender model Munroe Bergdorf over her comments on systemic racism and racial violence. Are white people too scared of being labeled “racist” to acknowledge those internalized biases and actually try to not be racist?
But reading about Starr as she witnesses the murder of her best friend, Khalil, as she struggles to make people understand that even if he was a drug dealer or a gang member, that still isn’t an excuse for his death, as she weeps and seethes, as she realizes that the police–police like her uncle, police that she has been raised to both fear and respect–have no intention of trying to find justice for Khalil, reading about all of those things might just help people understand a little better what the #blacklivesmatter movement is about. It might help people to understand why it’s so necessary. And it might help people understand that just because their biases aren’t intentional, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
So this book is important, clearly. But it’s also good. There’s a reason it’s been at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list (even after it was briefly de-throned in a wild scam worthy of it’s own YA novel). It’s well written and Starr’s voice leaps off the page. It’s also, obviously, a sad book. Like, get the tissues ready. I mean the whole plot hinges on the fact that Starr witnesses the murder of her best friend. That’s chapter one. So, between that and the emotional fall out and all the other tough issues this book deals with as it progresses…yeah, there are going to be some tears for sure.
This book isn’t necessarily an easy read. It’s telling some dark truths about the world we live in. It’s gonna cause some tears and maybe even be a little emotionally draining, but it’s also important. I think it would be difficult to understate just how important a book like this is right now. At a time when white supremacists and Neo-Nazis are literally gathering in the streets and people respond to the #blacklivesmatter movement with #alllivesmatter without actually listening to what they’re trying to say, we need books like this now more than ever. The lessons we can learn from books, the empathy it can grow in us, these things are badly needed, and it’s thoughtful, beautiful, gut-wrenching books like The Hate U Give that can bring us that.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is this is a great book and an important book. And everyone should read it.
TL;DR: Everybody read this book.
“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”