“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”
As quotes go, it’s a hard one. Coming from a 16-year-old girl, it’s heartbreaking! And it is 16-year-old Starr Carter who is the heart of Angie Thomas’ debut novel, a book that should be required reading in every school today.
The Hate U Give is a simply stunning addition to the rich tapestry that is modern YA fiction, and is a book that has enough depth to it to make it a compelling story that older readers can enjoy also. When we first meet Starr, we learn she is a young black girl living somewhat of a double life between the rough, dangerous, violent streets of Garden Heights (her hometown), and the clean, rich, predominately white Williamson Prep, the high school her parents work hard to send her and her brothers to in order to keep them away from the gangs, drugs and anti-social behaviour that runs rampant in their neighbourhood, and present them with the opportunities readily available to the schools white students.
After shots are fired at a party, Starr finds herself taking a ride home from Khalil, her childhood friend who she admittedly has lost touch with recently. The two use the drive to reconnect, laugh and remember a mutual friend they lost years previously due to a drive by shooting in their neighbourhood. It’s clear, life hasn’t been easy for these kids.
Suddenly police lights appear in the rearview mirror and a siren blares, signalling for them to pull over. Khalil is asked to step out of the car and place his hands on the cars roof as the cop returns to his car. Seeing Starr is shaken by this , Khalil opens the car door to check on her, and he is horrifically shot three times in the back by the officer. Starr can do nothing as her friend bleeds out on the sidewalk and the person who just killed him keeps his gun pointed at her until backup arrives.
It is this senseless murder of an unarmed black teenager that sets Starr on a journey toward a question she always thought would be so easy, but now that she’s actually living it, seems an impossible thing to answer: should she speak up, and clear the rumours surrounding what happened to Khalil and try and achieve justice for him? Or remain silent, fearing she’ll never be believed and have assumptions made about her, while the white man in the position of authority gets off scot-free?
I’d first heard about The Hate U Give after the adaptation of the book was released earlier this year. I can’t speak on the movie just yet (although I’ve heard great things, even talks of potential Oscar nominations), but the book is a smart, sharply written, well-paced debut from Angie Thomas, that gives a personal insight into the huge current issue of racism in the United States.
I’ve always considered myself emphatic of the struggles that people of colour go through, and aware of the certain level of privilege that comes with being white. But this book thought me about some things. Things I’d never really thought about before, and certainly never had to deal with. For example, there is a poignant piece that plays out early in The Hate U Give in which Starr’s parents have to sit her down and explain how to handle the situation if they are ever stopped by a police officer:
“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and bees…The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.”
While of course not all law informant officers are guilty of racism and brutality, it’s a sobering thought to think of any black parent having to sit their child down to give them such a talk, simply because they are black!
But, while the book strikes right to the unpleasant core of racism and police brutality, its narrative also contains many funny and heart-warming moments of Starr interacting with her friends and family, which are often a brief reprieve from the heavier themes.
The book will always have its critics, I have no doubt. The story is told from Starr’s perspective, so some might see it as biased. But for me, Thomas does a great job setting out the problems surrounding racism and police brutality that need to be faced, while not shying away from some of the issues that are evident in black communities also.
Many might also think the straight-talking prose, profanity and fearless description of events is too much for a young adult audience. But the way I see it, this book is a perfect tool to be used to educate the youth about these issues, to make them more aware of them early on, so they can make the correct choices in combatting them as they get older.
Ultimately, don’t let the young adult tag turn you off. Like many YA books nowadays, this is a story that can be picked up and enjoyed by anyone, at any age. This is a book that should be on every to-be-read list!