“Khalil said it’s about what society feeds us as youth and how it comes back and bites them later,” I say. “I think it’s about more than youth though. I think it’s about us, period… black people, minorities, poor people. Everybody at the bottom in society… we’re the ones who get the short end of the stick, but were the ones they fear the most.”
– Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.
It is 1.07 am and I have just finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I am sitting here staring at the book in my hands, turning it over and over trying to process what I have just read. I should be putting the book down, turning the light off and going to sleep… except my mind is racing so fast I don’t think I can until I get my thoughts down on paper.
I received this book from Walker Books Australia a few weeks ago and as I started seeing it more and more on Instagram, the further down my reading pile it fell. Why, you ask? As much as I love the book community on Instagram, it has a terrible habit of inflating certain books to ‘awesome’ status, even when they’re not. So often I have picked up a book because everyone else is raving about it, only to be really disappointed. This book – this magnificent book – is possibly one of the most important you will read this year.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives a double life, straddling the deep divide between the poor, gang-ravaged neighbourhood she grew up in and the mostly white, privileged school she attends, Williamson Prep. When her childhood friend Khalil is shot by a police officer in an unprovoked attack, her fragile hold on life shatters, blurring the line between her two lives. Starr is the only witness to the attack and therefore the only one who can speak for what happened, however this places her in an extremely dangerous position between the authorities, the public, and her community. The neighbourhood where is she lives – Garden Heights – develops from dangerous into an all-out war zone and when the shooting makes the national news, it puts Starr’s life, and that of her family, in harm’s way.
I don’t know where to begin when it comes to this book. I don’t know if my words are adequate enough to describe just how powerful and important this book really is. The Hate U Give has reminded me why I love YA – I love it when shit gets real. This book is one of the most real I have read in a long time. The title pays homage to one of the most influential game-changing names in hip hop history, Tupac Shakur. I don’t really listen to a lot of hip-hop, nor do I know a lot about it but even I know Tupac’s name. Thomas’ title references the acronym Tupac created – T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E – standing for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone’. Contrary to general belief, this acronym was intended to reimagine the traditional definition of a THUG – a violent person, a criminal – and to bring to light the consequences of the socially oppressive ideas and thoughts we’re taught at a young age that negatively impacts life/ society into adulthood.
The separation in Starr’s life is not her personal belief; it is the external pressures that force her to question everything she says and does. Thomas lays bare the incredibly complex layers of everyday life for her black characters and she does so with heart-breaking honesty. Every decision is burdened by choice, met with hostility and has the potential for dangerous and life-threatening consequences. Each of Thomas’ characters – each intricately nuanced – has the desire to do the right thing however for many of them, they are unable to escape the reality of their situation. Each character is burdened by personal responsibility, one of the main themes of the book. Thomas’ story is also about narratives; how we build them, how we tell them, and how we continue them. Khalil’s death highlights the blatant racism and open hostility faced by so many people in this world. They are confronted with the harshest judgment, no matter what the truth of the situation is; people will see what they want to see, ignoring the facts and coming to their own conclusions.
I haven’t read a book this honest in a long time. This story explores the very real complexity of human lives; there is grief, anger, sadness, brutality, and trauma. There is regret and survival. However, there are also second chances, love, humour, empathy, friendship and truth. The Hate U Give is political, timely and essential. It is harrowing yet beautiful. I believe this book has the power to change lives. It will hopefully be one of the most important books you read this year, and in the many yet to come. So please read it, talk about it and share it. I know I will be!
AUTHOR: Angie Thomas
PUBLISHER: Walker Books Australia
PUB DATE: 1 March 2017
Thank you to Walker Books Australia for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!