The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 444 pages, Can be read in about a week depending on your speed, Young Adult
“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”Starr, p. 252
This book first came on my radar in 2018 when I saw the movie adaptation in the theater. I bought the book shortly after but, for whatever reason, I never read it. But, as February is Black History Month, this felt like the perfect time to read it. I wish I had read it sooner because it truly is a masterpiece.
The Hate U Give follows 16-year-old Starr in the weeks after the death of her childhood friend Khalil. Like far too many, Khalil is a Black male teenager killed by a cop. And, like far too many, his tragic death becomes a nationwide story. Starr, as the only witness to the shooting, must then navigate a world in which she wants to maintain her privacy, but also wants to fight for justice for her friend. But as the story progresses, we also learn more about her, the way she navigates her life in her mostly Black poor neighborhood Garden Heights vs her life at her almost all white private high school Williamson Prep, and the various individuals that people her life.
One of the key themes—and a major plot point—is about finding one’s voice. As Starr says in the beginning, there is Williamson Starr and Garden Heights Starr. Throughout the book, Starr struggles with maintaining her various voices (what many refer to as code switching) and the way Thomas shows how Starr navigates pulling them together is one of the best character developments I’ve read.
What makes this book so engrossing where the smaller moments between the characters—the moments that made you feel like you were eavesdropping on a family just hanging out. One of my favorites of these moments was the conversation between Starr and her dad about the Harry Potter houses basically being gangs. I laughed so hard! But, also, he’s totally right. And if I were randomly overhearing this conversation, I would tell him as such. There are many moments like this in the book and they not only help capture the essence of the characters, but also show how life goes on after a great tragedy. In the midst of fighting for justice, there is also “normalcy,” and it those relationships and moments that keep Starr (and by extension, us, the readers) grounded. While this book was released five years ago today, the issues, topics, and themes covered are as relevant as ever.
We still live in a world where the phrase “Black Lives Matter” needs to and must be said over and over, daily. We still live in a world where Black people are dying at the hands of cops. And we still live in a world where systematic racism and white supremacy thrive. And while I am saddened at the lack of progress made in the last 5, 10, 50, 100+ years, it brings me joy to know that such brilliant story tellers as Thomas are out there, reminding us everyday of the truths we cannot ignore and the lives we need to celebrate.