The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an important book. One deserving of the amazing hype its been getting online. It’s a fresh, current examination of the Black Lives Matter movements and what it feels like to be a black girl growing up in America today. But, how do you begin to talk about a book that’s so different from your own life experiences?
This is the challenge I’ve had with reviewing The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I’ve sat down to write this review about fifty times but each time I find myself stumped for what to say. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, far from it, but rather I’m struggling to find the right way to put into words how this books feels without sounding trite. There’s another huge factor in my hesitancy to review it. I’m English and I’m white. Pretty much the opposite of the experiences this book examines. So trying to pass any kind of comment on how accurately The Hate U Give represents a topic (Policy Brutality and Racism) which is so controversial in the media is impossible. It’s so far outside of my realm experience.
So I’m not going to do that here. Instead I’m going to focus on all the reasons The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an amazing insight into a different culture and experience. Because one of the best things about reading is that it enables you to see through the eyes of another person for a little while. To walk in their shoes and share their thoughts and feelings.
“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood 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.”
How Can Someone Be On Trial For Their Own Murder?
Angie Thomas doesn’t shy away from the complicated bits in The Hate U Give. I really appreciated that. It would have been easy to absolve Khalil, for example. To make him totally innocent. Instead she makes him human, with a good heart but flawed decisions. In a society that will exploit any flaw, this felt key to understanding what it’s like to be young, black and from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’.
“The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen—people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right.
Maybe this can be it.”
Starr goes through the same process as the reader, trying to reconcile the Khalil she knows, funny, loyal and kind-hearted. With the details that begin to emerge after his death, drug-dealer, gang member. Most of all she struggles with why Khalil is the one figuratively on trial instead of the police man who shot him and all of the injustices that are tied up with that. For example, her white friends at school fail to look past the headlines and are even threatened by Starr’s insistence that it should be Officer’s actions that are demonised.
The Hate U Give Small Infants…
I found Starr’s reluctance to admit that she knows Khalil, or that she was there when he was killed, particularly interesting. In her own way she becomes a victim to society’s stereotypes. It’s a tangled web and forces her to live a double life. Starr has her own demons to fight, and throughout the novel a subplot emerges as she begins to work out who she is and what she stands for. And importantly, what she’s prepared to fight for.
“I never know which Starr I should be. I can use some slang, but not too much slang, some attitude, but not too much attitude, so I’m not a “sassy black girl.” I have to watch what I say and how I say it, but I can’t sound “white.””
The Tupac lyrics, which inspired the title of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, become the core around which the novel revolves. If the system expects you to act a certain way, does that ever absolve you? If you treat a person like a thug, do you have a right be shocked when they become one? Outside of the particular circumstances that bring this about, I think struggling to correlate who you are with who you want to become is something any reader can relate to. It is definitely something I struggled with growing up.
Empathy is Stronger than Sympathy
If The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has taught me anything it is that we need to work harder to understand each other. The world is made up of billions of people, from thousands of cultures. All with life experiences and hopes and dreams that won’t always match up with our own. That doesn’t make them wrong, only different. It doesn’t even mean you always have to agree. The way we can continue to grow, as people, is to engage with the debate and keep challenging our own assumptions. I think Angie Thomas summed it up perfectly in her interview with Bustle. “The Hate U Give is about showing that empathy is stronger than sympathy…It is about Black Lives Matter, but it’s showing black lives that matter and showing why they matter.”