The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A friend recommended this book at the top of this year, rather insistently. "This will be the next book you read," she told me, "I want to know what you think." She is persuasive. I started it the next day.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an important read for all ages, focusing on dividing lines in a city - lines between races, between classes, between state and citizen, between neighborhoods and between families. A line is crossed when a police officer shoots and kills Starr Carter's childhood friend, Khalil. He is 16 and unarmed, but he is also black and living in Garden Heights. He is a child, but the media portray him as a villainous teen, dealing drugs for a gang.
After this opening act, we follow the witness, 16-year-old Starr, as she finds her voice and raises it to honor Khalil, and all those who suffer under socially constructed bias that turns race into something more than a difference in skin color. Through her experience, in the protests and violence that occurs in the aftermath of Khalil's death, and in her decision to testify to the public and in court, we come to know about her life, her classmates and her family.
Starr lives in Garden Heights, with her parents and brothers, though her older brother goes in between their home and his mother's. She goes to school in a different district, where her uncle, who's a cop, lives. There, she behaves differently, speaks differently, moves differently. Her group of friends at school, including her white boyfriend, know almost nothing about her life in Garden Heights. Maintaining this boundary is easy until the death of her friend, and the reactions of the different communities she moves through each day.
I love that this is a widely acclaimed young adult novel, because its heroine is one Americans don't have enough opportunities to read about. The book is written in quick, short paragraphs with lots of dialogue that captures the voice of an entire demographic. It is literature that needed to be written down, and must be read and shared. My friend wisely knew this.
Reading this book, I eagerly wish to hear from parents. How do you feel about your children reading about police brutality, the wielding of weapons, drug abuse, abusive relationships...? Why aren't there more young adult stories out there like this one, given the reality of these circumstances in so many homes? If you have any thoughts, I hope you share them.
A final note worth mentioning is the ode to Tupac in this book's title. The Hate U Give is an interpretation of the acronym THUG LIFE - "the hate u give little infants fucks everybody." It is a reminder that the environment in which our youth are raised carries a heavy history, and, with it, heavier consequences. It challenges young adults, parents, and young professionals like myself to remake the world, to strive for something different. Things will not change unless we speak out to change them. Starr is a role model for all of us.