The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas has received no shortage of praise. It’s been #1 on the New York Times YA bestseller list for two weeks in a row and received eight starred reviews (which I didn’t even know was possible!). John Green called the book “a classic of our time.” Kirkus said the book was “necessary” and “important,” while Publisher’s weekly wrote that it was “heartbreakingly topical.” I could go on and on and on and on an on, etc. My point is there are far better and more insightful reviews of this book that spell out why it is so important and so good in equal measure. In fact, I would check out my friend Charlotte’s review and Amanda at The Bookcraft’s review; both discuss race and representation in a way that I cannot. Still, despite all the voices currently singing the praise of this book, I want to add my thoughts to the masses.
I. Loved. This. Book.
As the jacket copy will tell you, sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in two worlds: the poor black neighborhood where she’s always lived and the expensive, mostly white prep school she attends. The books starts with Starr witnessing her childhood best friend, Khalil, being murdered by a police officer. The visceral fear and violence of this moment is so well written. Even though I knew it was coming, I was still shocked and shaken up. This one moment tears Starr’s two worlds farther away from each other. At home, Khalil’s death is a family tragedy and an attack on their community. At school, even some of Starr’s best friends call him a thug and a drug dealer. While some use the tragedy as an excuse to “protest” and get out of class, others suggest that he had it coming.
Starr has to navigate her role in all of this as the only witness. She faces attempts to be silenced and the twisting of her words, but throughout the book finds ways to use her voice. Throughout the stakes are high. She doesn’t just risk alienating one or both of her communities. Her life and the safety of her family are at risk.
This book is important. It is being called a #blacklivesmatter book, and it deals with issues around police brutality with nuance, sensitivity, and unapologetic honesty. It pays homage to a diverse history of black activism from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Black Panthers to hip hop. It also shows how little power Starr has to fight the racism she experiences in school and the unfair burden put on her to not be stereotyped by her peers and teachers.
This book is also good. Starr is such a funny, fiery, likeable character. Most of all she (and every character in this book) feels real. Her love of Fresh Prince. Her confusion over if she should have sex with her boyfriend. Her see-sawing desire to be honest but also fit in with her friends. The tensions and alliances between the web of Starr’s friends and family are authentically described. Loyalty is a big theme within the book, that is explored through several different characters.
This book made me laugh. It made me cry (a lot). It made me uncomfortable thinking about the white supremacy that still reigns over our culture in this country and my own racism, the things I know I’ve handled wrong in the past and the biases I’m unconsciously living with now.
On Thursday, I went to Angie Thomas’s NYC book launch, and it was basically standing room only. I got their early with my friends, and we still couldn’t see. The joy and enthusiasm for this book was palpable in the air. People couldn’t stop squealing. Beyonce lyrics were recited. Angie talked about her isolation experiencing the aftermath of the shooting of Oscar Grant while attending a mostly white college. She also talked about her love of sneakers, rap music, and her mother’s amazing reaction when she found out Angie debuted at #1 on the bestseller list. The signing line was over 100 people deep and an hour long. People are ready for this book.
Still high off the energy in the bookstore, I started the book Thursday night and stayed in last night to finish it. I’m glad this book exists, and I’m sorry its story is so relatable and relevant. Most of all, I can’t wait to read Angie Thomas’s next book.