I think that I am probably the very last young adult literature fan to read The Hate U Give. This book made a lot waves when it came out in 2017 and it won several awards. There was a movie adaptation made as well that's sitting at a 97% Freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone loved it, everyone was talking about it, and somehow, I never picked it up. I definitely meant to, though. I bought it pretty close to when it first came out, stuck it on my bookshelf, and then never managed to actually read it. That's why this book is the very first one on my Finally in 2019 Challenge. After reading my customary Jules Verne novel to kick off the year, I decided to make The Hate U Give my second read.
The novel follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who at the start of the novel, explains that she feels like she's living two different lives. One life is her home life with her family. She lives in Garden Heights, a tough, inner-city neighborhood plagued by drug dealers and gangs. Despite the problems of the area, this is home for Starr. She lives with her father, an ex-gang leader that runs a small store in the neighborhood, her mother, who is a nurse at a local clinic, and her little brother, Sekani. Her second life is her school life with her friends. Her parents work hard to send her to an expensive prep-school in the suburbs, where she is one of only two black students. She feels like she has to act differently there, to avoid seeming "too black." She changes the way she speaks to fit in with her friends and teachers. She feels more comfortable with her boyfriend, Chris, but he is another white kid, and she still holds a bit of herself and her struggles back from him.
The action in the novel kicks off when Starr attends a Garden Heights party at the end of her spring break. After some violence breaks out at the party, she accepts a ride home from an old childhood friend named Khalil. She's always had a bit of a thing for him, but they've grown apart since she started attending her private school. On the way home, a policeman pulls them over for a broken taillight. During the traffic stop, the situation escalates. Khalil gives the police officer some attitude, and the officer orders him out of the car. When he ducks his head back in the car to see if Starr is okay, the officer shoots and kills him.
Khalil's death irrevocably changes Starr's life. She is devastated at his loss, angry at the actions of the police officer, and terrified to speak out about what happened. She is forced to confront a lot of uncomfortable truths about racism, police violence, and the problems in her community. Tired of the injustices she is seeing, Starr decides to stand up and speak out for Khalil, and her actions set of a chain of events that lead to a lot of changes for her friends and family. The Hate U Give is an honest look at how police brutality affects the black community and how persistence and activism are necessary to affect social change.
I was completely blown away by this book. What I first noticed when I started reading was how genuine it felt. This is author Angie Thomas's first novel, and it's a completely triumph. Starr's voice feels like a real teenager, and her feelings and pain leap right off the page. The language did take me a while to get used to. Starr speaks using Black English Vernacular, and getting into the rhythm of her words was a little bit difficult. There were a few terms I didn't understand too. Perhaps the whitest things I've ever done was look up what the phrase "gives me dap" meant (a handshake or fist bump, as it turns out). As I went deeper into the novel, however, I got used to the style and it wasn't an issue. In fact, it made the story feel more authentic.
The discussion around police violence was similarly well done. The feelings of Starr and her community are very well-articulated. The novel succeeds here in two ways; it is a mirror for young, black readers to be able to see a true discussion of this painful topic reflected in print, and it helps to explain some of the feelings behind movements like Black Lives Matter to readers that don't understand why movements like this are necessary. White readers might feel a bit uncomfortable with some of the discussion, but it is a necessary kind of discomfort. Thomas tells the truth in this novel, and she doesn't pull any punches. I felt like I came away from my reading with a better understanding of people like Starr and her family, who have to deal with injustices, big and small, every day.
Aside from its social importance, The Hate U Give is a great story as well. The pacing is good, the plot is consistently interesting, and there are quite a few exciting, suspenseful moments in its pages to keep readers engaged.The last third of the book is especially action-packed, as Khalil's murder becomes a major news headline and protests and riots start occurring in the streets of Starr's neighborhood. At 444 pages, this is a fairly long read, but it doesn't feel like it. I finished in just a few days and I know this story will be sticking with me for a long time. The closing paragraphs, in particular, are exceptional, and very memorable.
With quite a bit of language and violence, this is definitely a book for older teens, but I feel like everyone should pick it up. The Hate U Give is one of those books that everyone can learn from and benefit from. Part of the magic of reading is that it can teach us about the world and connect us with others, and this novel is one of the best vehicles for that that I have come across in a long time. I wish that it hadn't taken me so long to pick it up!
Finally in 2019: 1/6 Books Read
Total Books Read in 2019: 2