The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Published: April 2017 by Walker Books UK
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Synopsis from Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.
Review: I actually finished The Hate U Give a couple of weeks ago but I’ve been stalling on writing a review because I was worried about doing this stunning book justice. The hype has been strong with this one and whilst THUG isn’t actually out in the UK yet, I came across it whilst on holiday in Singapore earlier this month (so technically I few halfway around the world to get my hands on it – dedication!) proceeded to grab it and devour it in a day or two. Also fair warning, this review is a bit of a long love letter…
Let’s start with the characters because that is easily one of my favourite things about this book. The protagonist, Starr Carter has one of the most compelling voices I’ve come across in YA fiction. There are points where she is speaking directly to us, the reader, and seriously it’s difficult to remember that she is a fictional character. Her personality is so colourful and she is searingly honest about how her life is divided in two: the Garden Heights Starr and the Williamson Starr but at the same time naive about what she is sacrificing by having it so. In this way, Starr is brilliantly realistic – she is hyper aware of reality but at the same time just wants to fit in and initially doesn’t want to rock the boat. I loved reading about her relationships with her friends and family, the conflict of feelings she experiences when she becomes witness to the worst crime, and also how she bravely finds her voice.
Being two different people is so exhausting. I’ve taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I’ve mastered it.
And Starr isn’t the only standout character. Every other character felt fully formed – not one of them felt like they were trotted on to depict ‘Label X’ and then shown the exit never to be seen again. Instead, all of the secondary characters were given backgrounds, page time, interaction with the protagonist and most importantly, an original voice. Khalil is a good example – his death is what sets off the chain of events that make up the plot. I wouldn’t be surprised if this character wasn’t fully formed, I mean it happens often enough in books. But not THUG, no siree.. Even though Khalil is ‘on screen’ for a couple of chapters, his presence is felt throughout the book and Thomas makes you care about him and want justice for him which contextualises Starr’s response to her experience.
The drug dealer. That’s how they see him. It doesn’t matter that he’s suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” will ever be.
The same goes for the other characters. They were all distinct and real – and honestly I would be happy to read a book where Kenya is the protagonist, or Maya, DeVante, Khalil, or even freaking Uncle Carlos. Because Thomas writes in such a way that makes you care – you want to know these characters intimately, you want to know their history, how they got to where they are. A shout out here to the portrayal of Starr’s parents. I’ve often complained about absent parent syndrome in YA but this is most certainly not the case in THUG – not only are the parents present but they are parenting hard. I really liked how realistic Mr and Ms Carter were, the latter’s past was always acknowledged but never glorified, and their own difficulties were also made clear; they might be parents but they are also people.
That’s the hate they’re giving to us, baby, a system designed against us. That Thug Life.
I also want to mention the setting. The contrast between Garden Heights and Williamson was stark but not overdone – everything about Thomas’ writing is very much show not tell. The deprivation of Garden Heights was clear but the sense of community in spite of this was palpable to me. It felt like a real neighbourhood, one with the entire spectrum from young to old, ordinary to eccentric. I loved how Thomas showed us the best, like when the community band together in times of need, as well as the worst, like the gangs and turf wars that tear it apart.
This is bigger than me and Khalil though. This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us…
The crowning glory of The Hate U Give though is the subject of the novel – a shooting of black boy by a white policeman, something that is sadly all to common these days. Thomas deals with the topic so deftly, she puts the big questions to us, specifically, ‘just because a person isn’t a saint, is that enough to condemn him to death?’ Thomas takes the narrative beyond the usual black and white and lays out the grey for us. At no point does THUG shy away from the big issues it grapples with whether it’s police shootings, casual and institutionalised racism, social deprivation and crime etc.
That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us.
In short, The Hate U Give taught me A LOT. It’s difficult to overstate how much of a landmark this book is – both in the publishing world but also, personally to me as a person of colour. I became very conscious of the fact that I’ve ‘experienced’ casual racism, and how it’s important to confront it rather than excuse it for the sake of keeping things cordial because this only serves to normalise such behaviour. In case it’s not obvious, I ADORED this book and think it should be made into a required text! This is one of those times that the book not only deserves the hype but surpasses it. And if you needed further convincing, I’ve already got both my sisters to read it with very positive results! The Hate U Give is out on 6 April but I recommend having it on pre-order 😉
Have you read The Hate U Give already? Or have it on pre-order – if so what about THUG are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments below!!