A phenomenal debut, and one which is well-worth the hype and praise. If it isn’t on your to-be-read pile, add it. Because it’s going to be one of the most important books of the year.
Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug. He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I’ll remember how he died.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give (abbreviated to THUG) tells the story of Starr, a sixteen year-old girl who witnesses the murder of her friend in a cop shooting.
Because he was a young black male who was suspected of selling drugs, Khalil is immediately written off as a gangbanger, a thug, somebody unworthy of the right to live.
The book deals with the aftermath of the shooting, as Starr struggles to deal with what has happened – the emotional trauma, the clinical workings (or not-workings, as it were) of the justice system, and keeping it all together in front of people at her mostly white middle class school.
I hope none of them ask about my spring break. They went to Taipei, the Bahamas, Harry Potter World. I stayed in the hood and saw a cop kill my friend.
These are heavy social justice issues, that are dealt with the gravitas they deserve.
And not just the matter of Black Lives Matter, but the everyday micro-aggressions faced by black youth – from people who make fun of their names and the language they use, to the media that assume the worst and the poverty that so many of them face.
They act like I’m the official representative of the black race and they owe me an explanation. I think I understand though. If I sit out a protest, I’m making a statement, but if they sit out a protest, they look racist.
But an unexpected yet wonderful surprise was the fact that this novel is also filled with humour and heart. It was delightful, and I ended up bookmarking so many passages that made me smile with their wit and good-natured ribbing.
He got a tan over break. I used to tell him he was so pale he looked like a marshmallow. He hated that I compared him to food. I told him that’s what he got for calling me caramel. It shut him up.
Of course, it’s all good and well that the content is stellar, but what about the writing style? Never fear – Angie Thomas has a wonderful way of crafting passages – despite me being unfamiliar with aspects of American, and indeed, black American culture and vernacular, she just sucked me right into the story. Starr’s voice is authentic and warm and full of passion. She is scared but brave and strong and compassionate.
I adored the interactions between Starr and her family. The love and warmth were tangible.
“Lord, bless my mom, and thank you that she went into her retirement fund and gave us the money for the down payment. Help us turn the basement into a suite so she can stay here sometimes.”
“No, Lord,” Daddy says.
“Yes, Lord,” says Momma.
I especially appreciated the somewhat complicated relationships between extended family, neighbours and step-relatives. Indeed, Starr’s uncle is a cop, which certainly adds a unique dynamic – and stops potential critics of the book with their #NotAllCops in their tracks. Clever move.
“He was more than any bad decision he made…I hate that I let myself fall into that mind-set of trying to rationalize his death. And at the end of the day, you don’t kill someone for opening a car door. If you do, you shouldn’t be a cop.”
White boyfriend Chris is an example of how to be a good ally. Okay, sometimes he came across as a little too perfect but nevertheless, it was so much fun to see him getting (nicely) shredded by Starr and her friends/family for his white boy ways. And he provides a good example for white readers on how to support and how to examine their own privilege.
“Get over it, Maverick. He’s white!” Momma shouts on the patio. “White, white, white!”
Chris blushes. And blushes, and blushes, and blushes.
All in all, an exceptional book that speaks truth to power. It will educate those who are perhaps unfamiliar with the issues, and resonate with those who are all too familiar with treatment of black lives in America. Representation matters.
ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.