TITLE: The Hate U Give
AUTHOR: Angie Thomas
PUBLISHER: Balzer + Bray
PUBLISHED DATE: February 28, 2017
I have been so excited to read this book... Like....really, really, really excited to read this book. Debuting at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller's list, being in a massive 13 publishing house bidding war, and having a movie in the works...this book is hands down, THE book to read in 2017, and I've been waiting on it with all of my heart.
Starr Carter is 16. She's from Garden Heights, the hood - a war zone of black-on-black gang violence, rampant drug use and selling, and extreme poverty. Starr's parents send her to prestigious Williamson to give Starr a chance at a better education. Starr and her friend, Khalil, flee a party after it is shot up. They get pulled over by the police. As they are being pulled over, Starr mentally goes through "the rules" of how to interact with the police. Khalil does not follow the rules, and subsequently is shot and killed by a police officer. And thus begins the story of Starr learning to speak up for herself and how to navigate the violence of her neighborhood as well as the racial microaggressions of her privileged white friends.
I didn't love or hate this book. I think what is more telling is how this book has been marketed and received by the literati. THUG offers a version of black lives matters that is more palatable to the masses - one where the black community takes more responsibility for its own violence. The book adheres to a familiar trope--black people are depicted as poor, violent, drug addicted, and gang affiliated and white people are depicted as rich, lacking problems (other than that they judge black people), and trivializing real concerns brought to the forefront by a movement similar to that of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Hate U Give raises some very deep and troubling issues within the black community. Khalil is a drug dealer and his mother is a crack addict. Though Khalil committed no crime that caused him to be shot by the officer, his past is used against him in the media and police brutality investigation, and causes Starr to feel shame and deny her association to him. She even questions his mother's right to grieve the loss of her son - she should have been a better mother, in Starr's eyes. This almost seems to speak to the heart of the debate within the black community surrounding Black Lives Matter, one I have heard often, particularly when another person departs this world and becomes a hashtag: should people be more vocal about black-on-black crime before they start "rioting" over police violence. It is no secret that the Black Lives Matter movement has been stigmatized as violent, anti-American, and just an excuse for black people to loot, burn, and destroy their own neighborhoods. Check out this debate about Black Lives Matter that took place in July 2016 after the shooting of Dallas police officers.
Starr has a profound need to be validated by her white friends. She constantly suppresses her "Garden Heights" behavior in order to be more acceptable. When her friend stops following her on social media because of all the "black" photos and memes she posts - particularly one of Emmett Till, Starr's insecurities rise to the surface causing her to question the solidity of their friendship. This book also examines reverse prejudice through Starr's interracial relationship with Chris, a boy from her school. Having heard her father disparage interracial relationships of celebrities, she worries that he will not accept her white boyfriend. At times the book seemed to center the lens of white perception over black lives. The book tries to end with a message of speaking up for yourself, but it doesn't quite vibe with the relentless message of shame and degradation within Starr and ultimately the black community. Evoking the names of actual unarmed people who have been killed felt exploitative. The book is more about the harm black people to do themselves, than one against police brutality - or the very real danger that black people of all social classes face in America.
Do I think teens will read this book? Of course! They'll probably gobble it up! There are parts that are funny and light despite the harsh subject matter. It helps the book go down easier. I'd be interested to have a book discussion with actual teens to see what they think, and what they took from it. Probably the best thing about this book it that it is in no uncertain terms a street book. I'm hoping more POC authors who write urban books can also go mainstream, and stop being pushed to the shadows.
Recommendation: You should read it. There is a lot to unpack, and some much needed discussions should be taking place.
Audience: Young Adults and up
*I received a copy of the ARC from the publisher and purchased the audiobook from Audible.
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