The Hate U Give

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posted by: Beret

Wow. This book.

It’s hard to know where to start besides the obvious: READ THIS BOOK.

Quick Plot Summary: The Hate U Give is about a sixteen-year-old African American girl caught between the two worlds she inhabits: Garden City, the economically disadvantaged neighborhood where she lives, and Williamson Prep, the elite private school she attends in the suburbs. In her struggle to belong in both worlds, we see Starr constantly jockeying to make the transition between home and school appear seamless.

In and of itself, that alone could fill a book, but first-time novelist Angie Thomas has decided to take on an incendiary current issue besides. She puts Starr in a car with a childhood friend when he is pulled over by the police, shot, and killed. As the sole witness, Starr has to grapple with a difficult choice: whether to speak up on Khalil’s behalf, or maintain her safety and anonymity at the expense of justice.

Why This Book is Amazing: Thomas has managed to flesh out the complexities of the characters and circumstances in a provocative, engaging, and believable story. It’s a page-turner with heart, brain, and conscience. Plus humor. Kudos, Angie Thomas.

Meaty Issues and Questions the Author Includes:

  • Police violence
  • Racism
  • Interracial dating
  • Gangs
  • Drugs
  • Grief
  • Riots
  • Step-family relationships
  • How silence and speaking out are both dangerous
  • How and why good people might make bad decisions
  • Whether to stay and work to improve your community, or move out for the your safety and that of your family
  • How you can do the right thing and things still go wrong

The list goes on and on, and includes sneakers. There’s a lot about Jordans, and a little advice besides, because: “every time a sneaker is improperly cleaned, a kitten dies.” – Starr

Lifelike Characters: There are few saints or villains here. Thomas refuses to use caricatures or short hand to bring her book to life. Besides the gang leader and the shooter–who remain more or less one-dimensional–the characters reveal their warts as well as their honorable qualities.

I rooted for Starr from page one, despite typical teen mood swings exacerbated by the horrific circumstances. At school, she pretends she doesn’t know the shooting victim and refuses to talk openly with her friends, alienating and withdrawing from everyone–including her boyfriend. Most relatable is her central quandary: “I always said that if I saw it happen, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.” – Starr

Starr’s father is a former gang member who spent time in prison and had an affair that changed the structure of his family. He is also a storeowner, a strong role model for change, and a passionate advocate for his community.

The shooting victim was a drug dealer, possibly a member of the King Lords gang, a good friend, and a son trying to look after his mother. Though public opinion outside of Garden City seems to dismiss Khalil as “just another criminal,” Thomas artfully paints him as a witty and thoughtful human being and questions why his criminal activity is pertinent to the shooting. Khalil was neither armed nor dangerous–and guilty of no crime–when he was pulled over. Even the reasons behind his involvement with drugs are delicately nuanced.

Though the shooter is clearly guilty, he is also a colleague of Starr’s uncle, a man who stepped in as Starr’s father figure when her dad was in prison, and who rounds out the idea that police officers are also humans with difficult choices and tough jobs.

The Meaning Behind the Title: The title is drawn from a tattoo that Tupac Shakur had across his abdomen: T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. The rapper was quoted as saying it was an acronym for: The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everyone. Khalil and Starr talk about this a bit in the book before he dies. In Khalil’s words: “…what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” Tupac said, “What you feed us as seeds, grows, and blows up in your face.” In other words, a garden can only yield what you plant.

Who Should Read This Book: Classified as YA (Young Adult), I looked in vain for recommendations regarding the specific target reading audience–i.e., age and maturity level. Be advised that the book doesn’t pull any punches. It opens at a party with alcohol and drug use, and a shot is fired by page 15. There are curses sprinkled throughout–beginning on page one–but they are used judiciously, lending authenticity to the voice of the protagonist and the action which unfolds. This book is too important and too good to shy away from. I highly recommend it for everyone in high school and beyond.

Added bonus: If you scroll down this linked page, you’ll find a brief interview with the author.

Extra, extra added bonus: Rumors are flying about the movie to be made from Thomas’s book. George Tillman (Soul Food) is set to direct, and Amandla Stenberg (Rue in The Hunger Games and Madeline in Everything, Everything) will play Starr Carter. Stenberg’s high school project “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows” blew up on Youtube in 2015.

Image credit: Teen Vogue

Author: Beret Olsen

Beret Olsen is a writer, teacher, and photo editor for 100 Word Story. She loves toast, the Oxford comma, and all your comments and questions.

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