The Hate U Give follows the story of Starr, a sixteen year-old girl who’s basically living two separate lives in two different worlds. She lives in an impoverished, crime-ridden community where she grew up, where her father works, where most of her memories are. At the same time, she attends a super posh high school that’s majority white and upper-class. Starr’s created a dynamic that lets her exist in both environments, a precarious, uneasy balance that never really lets her be entirely herself in either place. But everything changes when her childhood friend, Khalil, is killed by a police officer one night. Khalil was unarmed, and he did nothing wrong- and he took his last breath while Starr kneeled over his body.
THUG is obviously inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and is an extremely important novel. So much so that since the day I turned the last page, I have asserted that it’ll be a game-changer in literature. It covers very many important topics, all of which are integrated seamlessly into the narrative at hand. Not once does it seem preachy, despite taking a very clear stance. It’s never heavy-handed, which is an extremely difficult thing to do when so many societal issues are covered. From institutionalized racism to racial profiling by the police. From the public’s disregard of black lives to their clearly biased attempts at protecting white police officers. Starr’s situation at school and her friendships there are permeated with hard-hitting micro aggressions- offhand comments that aren’t necessary said with ill-intent but are harmful nonetheless. Anyone belonging to a minority group will relate. From the realities of gang violence to how black communities are affected by systematic suppression of potential re socioeconomic status. And it also deals with the topic of healthy interracial relationships, since Starr’s boyfriend is white. The importance of anger, the importance of social media when it comes to sociopolitical movements, the dynamics of rebellion, revolution and rioting…
Do you see what I mean by how much this book deals with? And believe me when I say that all of the above are integrated into our characters’ lives, shown through Starr’s relationships with the people around her, so they are barely ever explicitly stated. By far the strongest facet of Angie’s storytelling is how wonderfully she layers her characters’ relationships. Starr’s moving, respectful, beautiful relationship with her parents. Her tense but close relationship with other members of her community. Her relationship with her boyfriend, and her doubts about the longevity of their love. Her friendships at school… every single character is bound to Starr by a thread, and the thread is so solidly woven into the narrative that you feel everything she feels. It’s incredible.
But even more than the relationships at hand, Thomas is incredibly skilled at her characterization. There are many characters in this book, all with detailed back-stories, carefully constructed values and personalities. Each character feels like a living, breathing human being to the point where I found myself breathless at the realization that they did not exist. How can Starr not be real? Khalil dies in the first chapter, but even then, his story remains alive throughout the narrative and you feel like you knew him. You weep for him, his family, his friends, the lost potential of a life taken so young. I cried for a character I only knew for a couple of pages, and if that doesn’t tell you how fantastic this book is, I don’t know what will.
When I say The Hate U Give is a game-changer, I mean it. It’s moving, it’s beautifully written and it feels so real, so profound that you will not want to put it down. It’s not just a story. It’s a tender and honest analysis of the struggles black people – more specifically black youth – face in today’s society. It’s a close-up of a person, a family affected by senseless violence and fear, and it forces you to think about every other person whose name you have heard and mourned. Mike Brown. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. This is not just a story; it’s a movement in and of its own. It’s a force to be reckoned with, and you will truly be missing out if you don’t purchase a copy and devour its magnificence.