Angie Thomas’ bestselling debut novel became a must read the second I heard about it. A book inspired by Tupac Shakur and #BlackLivesMatter, that looks at how racism and police brutality impact black youth? I’m down!
The book follows the story of Starr Cater, a 16 year old girl who seems to be living in two different worlds. One being her posh high school filled with rich white kids. And the other being her poor neighbourhood filled with poverty, violence and crime. Starr tries to strike a balance between the two, but this becomes increasingly difficult when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend Khalil.
Reading The Hate U Give was a refreshing detour from many of the Young Adult books I’ve come across, which often involve post-apocalyptic/futuristic worlds or cliché romance. While I enjoy some of these books as much as the next person, YA novels have the potential to deal with real-world issues in more realistic and maybe even familiar settings. Angie Thomas recognised this potential, ran with it and excelled! This coming of age tale pulls the curtain back on many of the harsh realities that black children have to deal with. There are a number of things that Starr experiences in this book simply because of the colour of her skin. Such as feeling the need to minimise her valid emotions to avoid being labelled ‘angry,’ ‘loud’ or ‘ghetto’. Or even having to be sat down for ‘the talk’ at the tender age of 12, no not the one about the birds and the bees. The one where parents coach their children on how to interact with the police, so that they can hopefully make it home alive. Thomas’ depiction of Starr and her experiences as an African American are bold and truthful, its not all Hip Hop, dance crazes and Brazilian butt lifts. As Starr herself says;
Its dope to be black until its hard to be black
This book also deals heavily with the idea of activism, and raises many questions about dealing with injustice. As the controversy surrounding Pepsi’s recent advert has highlighted, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Should you go out into the streets to protest peacefully or riot and loot? Should you say your piece on Tumblr and twitter? Should you even speak up at all? Starr is plagued with confusion and self-doubt in the beginning of this story, and asks herself many of these questions. But she works towards solidifying her identify as both an activist and a young black woman throughout the course of this book. All while mourning the death of her beloved friend, its an amazing process to see unfold.
Angie Thomas has a raw and realistic writing style reminiscent of many of the ‘Urban fiction’ stories I’ve come across on more informal platforms such as Wattpad. This book is filled with many light-hearted moments with pop culture references, from Drake and The Fresh Prince of Bel air to Harry Potter and the renowned Black Twitter. While it may not be the case for everyone that reads this book, I felt a sense of familiarity with the character’s interests and experiences. They seemed like people I could come across in real life and that fact made my empathy for them run deep. These characters are complex and dynamic, their bold personalities fly off the page and even the most seemingly predictable and stereotypical characters come to surprise you. The most important thing about Angie Thomas’ writing is that it made me feel, which is what I anticipate whenever I pick up a book. The Hate U Give made me joyful and tearful. It made me laugh but it also made me yell in anger and frustration. But most importantly, it made me proud. Proud of the individuals behind movements like Black Lives Matter, that band together in the face of adversity and speak up for what is right.
The Hate U Give gets 5 stars from me as I honestly don’t think it could be improved. I highly recommend this book to anyone that struggles to understand the sentiments behind the Black Lives Matter movement. But if you simply want to be entertained by a well written, gripping and emotive story, this is also the book for you!