The Hate U Give
By Angie Thomas
Harper Collins; New York; 2017
“I love Jesus but I cuss,” says Angie Thomas on her Twitter bio, and though she wrote The Hate U Give while working in a church as a secretary to a bishop, this young adult novel contains plenty of unsanctified language. The story Thomas tells, however, is wholly compassionate and full of grace, and the language is simply true to reality. In spite of being a work of fiction, The Hate U Give is a window into a reality that most white folks aren’t familiar with, and a mirror for the black folks who are. Angie Thomas recognizes the importance of black young adults being able to see themselves as the stars of stories, and Starr Carter, the main character and narrator of this novel, is a wonderful example.
After witnessing her close childhood friend, Khalil, gunned down by a white policeman, sixteen-year-old Starr Carter has to come to terms with her world in the aftermath. Should she speak out about what she knows and potentially draw fire on herself and her family? Her beloved Uncle Carlos, who’s a cop himself, tells her that the police just want to know the truth. Her father says, “Oh, we know the truth, that’s not what we want…We want justice.” Although those who knew Khalil know he was “more than any bad decision he made,” and death isn’t an appropriate sentence for his mistakes, getting justice is more complicated than one might wish. And though her friend is dead, Starr still needs to figure out how to live. How can she solidify her seemingly two different identities as she navigates the white, wealthy prep school she attends and also the “hood” she lives in where drugs and gangs are all too familiar?
Starr’s own father, Maverick, or Big Mav, is a reformed gangbanger who spent three years in prison and got out when Starr was six. He wears his love for Starr and her brothers for all to see, with their pictures tattooed on his arms along with the words, “Something to live for, something to die for.” As Starr describes them, “Love letters in the simplest form.” Starr is definitely blessed with loving family and community members, but even though her father tells her that she has nothing to fear but God, him, and her momma—especially her momma when she’s mad—the truth is that danger lies in both her neighborhood, and in the larger white society that sees everyone like her as a potential criminal. Can Starr be true to herself and her beliefs, and still be safe? You’ll just have to read it to find out.
The Hate U Give is an affirmation of the Black Lives Matter movement and a dedication to all the young black people who have been murdered by police and condemned by a society that doesn’t understand them. Richly detailed, honest, and intensely relevant, there’s good reason this book has spent months on the New York Times YA bestseller list. Read it first; the movie will be coming soon.
Teacher Librarian at Sheldon High School