The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas herself said that she was afraid to write The Hate U Give. In the same way, I’m afraid to review it. I’m used to talking about flights of fancy, not emphatic social commentaries—dragons and fairies, not human studies of racial bias. I’m afraid of coming across as inarticulate, but I feel I’d be doing this book a disservice if I didn’t at least try to articulate the myriad of emotions I felt while reading it.

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16-year-old Starr Carter has a foot in two worlds: her crumbling neighborhood of Garden Heights, home to rising gangs and distant gunshots, and her lily-white prep school, where being the only black girl makes her an object of fascination. But her world is thrown into chaos when she watches a police officer shoot and kill her best friend, Khalil. Starr is the only witness to this horror—the only one who can tell the truth, as the nation wonders: does the cop deserve an indictment for killing an innocent young man, or was Khalil just another thug who had it coming?

Not since Eat the Apple have I been forced to confront my own values and feelings about a real-life topic. Although, I don’t think any book has ever pushed me to evaluate my socioeconomic privilege. That is, as a middle-class white woman reading this book, I was thrust into a world I know next to nothing about, and while I could easily participate as a third-party observer, I sometimes felt like I didn’t belong. Like, “I’m from a totally different world than these people. What place do I have thinking that I ‘understand’ their culture and problems thanks to this book?”

You want to know why I kept reading, despite these discomforts? There’s a magical tool that writers, minority or no, have used to lead readers through unfamiliar worlds for a long time. It’s called empathy. Starr’s first-person perspective is one such tool of empathy, but Thomas also uses one of the strongest, most basic tools of storytelling: Starr’s journey is the reader’s journey. Starr is a teenager, though also a teenager who loves her family—a teenager trying to find her place in a world that could destroy her if she isn’t careful. Some, if not all, of Starr’s characteristics relate heavily to anyone reading the book, and we root for her to come out on top.

And Starr has to navigate through a dark and tense world. Khalil’s story has the entire nation captivated, and she is literally the only one who can tell the truth, while a dangerous neighborhood gang leader has it in for Starr because of her father hiding a runaway gang member. Luckily, Starr has an incredible support system (her family is so eclectic and funny), but the danger and tension is palpable at every turn. To the point where, every time there was a prolonged period of relaxation for the characters, I knew something was going to shatter it.

More importantly though, the book puts you into situations that make you wonder what you would do. If you were a black basketball player, and your friend told you to pretend the basket was fried chicken so you could shoot the ball better, what would you do? If your black father was shoved into the sidewalk on account of having a slight argument on the street with another black man, how would you react?

Stories spring up about “thugs” all the time in the news, and this book throws you into the other side. The world thinks that Khalil was reaching for a gun when he was shot, when it was actually just a hairbrush. The world thinks that he and Starr were violent troublemakers, when they were just frightened kids. Both these facts are part of the story that the cop who killed Khalil—whom Starr calls One-Fifteen for his badge number—tells the media, much to Starr’s—and ours, frankly—dismay.

On that note, I do kind of wish we had a conversation between Starr and One-Fifteen. When Starr comes in to the police station to speak to some detectives, she sees One-Fifteen sitting with his head in his hands, shoulders shaking. I wanted to know whether he was sorry for what he did, or whether he would have stuck by his story. There is adequate closure at the end, but it was still something I really wanted to see.

Obviously, a book that makes you ask as many questions as it does is worthy of all kinds of analysis. My job here, though, is to analyze whether the characters, story, writing, and message were compelling, to which I say yes—a profound and heartfelt yes. I wish I had the time and space to thoroughly analyze every impactful scene and line, but that’s another post on its own. The point is that this is an important book to read, whether to enjoy the story, or to look in the mirror and answer the questions this book provokes.

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