The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is a story about a black teenaged girl named Starr who grows up in the projects, and she witnesses firsthand her childhood friend Khalil, who is unarmed, be shot and killed by a white police officer. This happens within the first chapter of the book, and the rest of the story covers the fallout as Starr tries to navigate her own trauma and the reactions of her community as the story gains national attention.
There are parts of this book that were uncomfortable, painful, and difficult for me to read—and that’s a good thing, because this book forces the white reader (and yeah, that’s me) to confront the reality of systematic racism, to question their beliefs, and to open their hearts to the raw pain experienced by Starr and her community. This book is absolutely relevant right now, given our current political climate.
Starr straddles the line between two different worlds: her neighborhood, Garden Heights, and the prep school her parents put her in to protect her from the frequent violence surrounding the public high school in Garden Heights. Some of my favorite scenes occur in the collision of these two worlds.
Thoughtless micro-agressions and racist jokes told by Starr’s white friends are written like acts of violence against her—we see from Starr’s perspective how deeply these words cut. Likewise, we see loving intersections between these worlds: Starr’s white boyfriend, Chris, initially bonded with her by sharing her love of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and he adorably and terribly raps the show's opening at least twice in the book.
This is a story that hinges on Starr’s voice as narrator and protagonist. Her perspective gives voice to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones to police brutality. First person perspective also lends itself to showing all that Starr does not, and sometimes cannot, say in the face of this injustice. Much of the story’s conflict centers on the difficult choice that Starr has to make: stay quiet about what she saw, and protect herself, or speak out to tell Khalil’s side of the story, and face potential violence as a consequence.
And you know what else? Starr is such a teenager. She’s hilarious, she has strong opinions on whether dogs should wear clothes (she thinks it’s a crazy white people thing, and I totally agree), and she’s a huge Harry Potter nerd. I love Starr, and I love that I get to know her so well. The other characters in the story are painted as vividly as Starr—her family, her friends in Garden Heights and at school, her neighbors. Thomas crafts a wonderful cast of characters who are empathetic, human, and believably flawed.
The fact that I read this book in two days and stayed up until 1:30 AM to finish it points to two undisputable facts: I am addicted to reading, and this book is not easy to put down once you start it. I do recommend taking more time to read and absorb the story, because it’s intense and gave me a bit of emotional whiplash.
Thomas writes in her acknowledgements that this book is for the kids who grew up in the projects, but I think this book should be read by everyone else, too. It’s for people who live the injustices that Starr faces every day, and it’s for the people who stand by, complicit in the system that allows for this injustice. It’s for the “well-meaning” people who don’t realize the harm of their micro-aggressions and insensitive remarks. And it’s for white liberal young people like me who could always, always stand to listen and learn more, regardless of how "woke" they think they are.
There are a lot of powerful lines in this book, but I’ll end on this one, which I think encapsulates a lot of what this book is about:
“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
The Hate U Give was published in 2017 by Balzer + Bray, and is $17.99 in hardcover.
This book has generated a lot of hype, even more critical acclaim, and a fair amount of controversy—it was banned from at least one school district in Texas. Do you think that such politically charged books belong in the classroom?
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.