The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was one of the most anticipated releases in the YA community this year, if not the most anticipated. There was a lot of press prior to its release. It had its own hashtag. Since its release, its been on the NY Times Best Seller List. When a book is talked about this much, it is sometimes easy for me to think my voice is superfluous. How is it possible anyone would not know about this book? Then I remember that a good chunk of my blog readership aren't in the know when it comes to everything that is going on in publishing. They are kids and parents just looking for good books. And do I want them to know about this book and read it. I believe this should be required reading for everyone, but since I don't have that power, I can only hope to convince people of the need to read it here.
Let me start by saying Angie Thomas earned every bit of press, praise, and accolade this book has and will receive.
Starr Carter is a 16 year old girl carefully trying to navigate two very different worlds. By day she attends a private school where she is one of only two black kids in her grade. The rest of her life is spent in Garden Heights where her family lives. Garden Heights has drugs, dealers, shootings, and gangs. Starr feels like there are two versions of herself and she is always torn between the two. After a party, she and her childhood best friend Khalil are stopped by a police officer. The encounter ends with Khalil bleeding to death in front of Starr while the cop who shot him holds a gun on her until back up arrives. Khalil was unarmed. As the only eye witness, Starr has to grieve and figure out what her role is as the incident becomes a national headline and protests and riots break out. Her two worlds are impossible to keep separate now, and her words and voice matter more than ever.
Starr is magnificent. The story is told in first person and the cadence and realness of her voice hooked me from the start. It is incredibly easy to slip into her head and see the world through her eyes. It is incredibly easy to feel her life. From the opening scene, I was with her all the way. The first part of the book was the hardest part for me emotionally. Those first two chapters, you know where it is all going and it's intense. I loved Starr from the beginning and I wanted to protect her from what was to come. I loved Khalil from the beginning too. I sobbed my way through chapters two and three and about a quarter of the way through, I had to put the book down to take a break and just breathe for a while. I am tremendously aware that ability to step back and take that breath comes from a place of tremendous privilege. And that is one of the many reasons this book is so important. If books are meant to be mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, Starr's story is a mirror for so many who never see themselves reflected in the books they read AND it is a thrown open door to those who will never know what it is like to live her life. There is so much depth, nuance, and insight in her story though that people who experience it from any angle can't help but be transformed by it. Starr's journey is hard one, but taking it with her is well worth it. Starr is fierce, loyal, smart, and full of love and power she is only just beginning to realize the full potential of.
Thomas brings the world of Garden Heights to life through the people of the community. The secondary characters who people Starr's neighborhood are flesh and bone real people, and they show the reader the community itself. They are gang members, drug dealers, activists, church members, kids trying to take on adult responsibilities, adults overwhelmed, people helping their neighbors. There is so much nuance and layers packed into each character and the place they have in the world. Starr's relationship to each of them and how they factor into her story are important, but the subtle way they build the setting is amazing art in and of itself. I loved Starr's family and her dynamic with each family member. I could go in to detail about each and every one, but you should really just get to know them yourself by reading this book. Starr often feels excluded and judged by the people in her neighborhood because she goes to a private school and doesn't attend the parties that would make her "cool" in the Heights.
In contrast to that, Starr's school world is not a peaceful paradise either. Starr actively keeps herself within boundaries she's created at school.
"That means flipping the switch in my brain so I'm Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn't use slang-if a rapper would say it, she doesn't say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her 'hood'. Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she's the 'angry black girl'. Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Willimason Starr is non confrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn't give anyone a reason to call her ghetto."
The code switching Starr does at school is obvious from the first scene we are there with her. It is a little jarring at first as she puts on this entirely different persona. But man, does it drive home the point and is a real reflection of how so many black women have said they live their lives. The dynamics between Starr and her classmates are fraught at times particularly as Khalil's case gains more media attention. Starr has a "friend" who is prone to say racist things and then blame Starr for being too sensitive. Starr is dating a white boy at her school who she really loves and who really loves her. While she feels she can be more of herself around him than anyone at Williamson, she still hides a lot. Their relationship arc is an important aspect of Starr's journey in this book and their interactions are really wonderful.
As you can tell, this is a book that relies heavily on character. Any reader of this blog knows how much I love those books, and this one is set to become an all time favorite. These are people who are living life and working their way through a racist system and trying to survive while also pushing hard every day to make change. These are people who are now a part of my psyche in a way that I won't ever lose, and I find myself wanting to know and read more and more about them: Starr, Seven (her brother), Kenya (Seven's other sister), Devante (a friend), and Chris (the boyfriend) in particular.
I could go on and on about all of the aspects of the book that make it phenomenal, but I really just think everyone should read it and discover that for themselves.