“Sometimes you do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
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, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. 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 upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
CW: underage drinking, drug use and abuse, gangs, gun violence, police brutality, racism, loss of a loved one, alcoholism, domestic abuse
It’s actually hard to find the words to review this, partly because I’m just so impressed with it, partly because this is out of my typical genre, and partly because it’s so full of heavy, relevant topics. I think the easiest way to go about it is to just mention everything I can think of, and hope it forms something coherent in the end.
For starters, The Hate U Give shows just how much cycles of oppression keep pushing minorities down, focusing specifically on the racism and socioeconomic inequality that surrounds Starr’s predominantly black neighborhood and the shooting of her friend Khalil by the police. There’s fantastic nuance in the way Angie Thomas explores why someone might deal drugs despite not ever wanting to, or how someone might have taken the charges for a crime they didn’t commit in order to protect someone else. Nothing is clear cut, not when life is complicated by so many factors, especially factors like poverty and racism.
And this does make The Hate U Give an issue book, I think, but that’s hardly a bad thing given that the issues inside are so relevant and worth talking about still. We need to discuss police brutality and racism and the socioeconomic obstacles that stand in the way of major change. We also need to take action on these issues, but knowing about them, learning more, talking about them is how you start taking action.
And even while this book handles these topics so incredibly well, you get the bits of life that aren’t as serious for Starr. You get her playing basketball with her friends, you get her spending time with her family, both immediate and extended, you get her going to prom and getting to be a kid. All this, even while she grapples with the fallout of Khalil’s murder. Really, none of these things are completely inseparable from one another, but that’s how nuance works.
Another huge strength in this book is Starr’s voice. Not only is she distinctly expressive, but you can feel the shift when she’s at home in Garden Heights versus when she’s at school, where most of the students are white. She consciously alters her language and behavior based on her environment, and it was fantastic to see her adjust how much she did that and where and when over the course of the novel. It went hand in hand with her choosing which relationships in her life mattered most (with a couple of decisions I actually cheered for, since it was clearly much better for her to make those choices), and it ultimately meshed well with the theme of Starr finding her voice and using it. There’s power in her words, and it’s her decision how to wield that in the end.
Possibly the only thing that threw me was the resolution to Khalil’s murder, and perhaps the pacing of the novel, but I ended up giving this five stars because this is not fantasy. This is contemporary that rings frighteningly, horribly true to the present day, and things don’t always work out in ways that satisfy a narrative. They don’t always follow a specific pace. I can’t fault a book for embracing its genre in that way, even if it is at odds with what I typically read. And especially if it’s as powerful and well-crafted as this book.
I’m not entirely sure if I have much else to say, except that I don’t think this book will be forgotten. It’s already been put on banned books lists in the two years it’s been out, and it holds a steady place on the NYT Bestseller’s List. People are noticing this book, and they’re not letting it go quietly. And I hope that that rings true for a long while still to come.
In short, if you haven’t read The Hate U Give, I think it’s absolutely worth the time to pick it up and really let it sink it. I found it worth every moment of my time, and I can only hope you’ll feel the same.