(Originally posted on my old book review blog, HilliterateBlog!)
I often see authors, actors, and others in the public eye asked the question, "What is a book that changed your life?" I've seen many answer with To Kill a Mockingbird, which makes complete sense, and I feel the same about Harper Lee's classic that was once my 9th grade assigned reading. A book so profound and as important at its publishing as it is today has made me wonder whether modern literature can produce anything that lives up to TKAM. After reading Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give, however, I no longer have to wonder; I feel confident in saying that Thomas has produced a classic of the proportions of Lee's, and there's no book that I'd rather recommend in my very first official book review!
I read The Hate U Give in the span of 24 hours because I could not. put. it. down. As powerful and moving as it is, it is also incredibly enjoyable, smart, and funny. I now recommend it highly to readers of all ages and backgrounds, and I basically can't stop talking about it. THUG (acronym intentional - read the book to know why!) is told from the perspective of a teenage girl, Starr Carter, who has grown up between two different "worlds," though they are only a 45 minute drive apart. On one side is her low-income, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where Starr has grown up and where her family owns a grocery store. On the other end is the wealthy private school in the suburbs that Starr and her brothers attend, and where they are among almost an entirely white student body. Starr puts forth two different versions of herself in each place and feels like she is managing both well; she has a boyfriend and two best friends at school, where she plays basketball and makes good grades, then she has her loving, grounded family and a couple of neighborhood friends at home. This all starts to change before Starr's - and the reader's - eyes by the first few pages.
While Starr is riding home with a childhood friend, Khalil, following a party in Garden Heights one night, their car gets pulled over by a police officer. In a rapid succession of awful events, Starr becomes the lone witness to the police officer shooting and killing Khalil. What follows the murder challenges Starr in ways that no teenager - no person, really - should have to deal with and creates a narrative that sheds light on police brutality, racial justice, family bonds, white privilege, and so much more.
I definitely need to acknowledge that as a middle-class, white person, there is much that I don't or can't understand about the experiences of people of other races or socioeconomic situations. This is the case for many (if not all) of my white peers. I think the best things we can do for ourselves and for our neighbors is to keep an open mind and heart, to listen, and to allow ourselves to learn. Thomas's novel is one excellent, accessible source for young and old alike for such learning about the experience of being black in America today.
Thomas does an amazing job of developing her characters, making the reader bond with them from the get-go. It wasn't more than a couple of chapters before the inciting event, Khalil's death, and by the time it happened, I had already grown to love him and felt heartbroken by the loss. Through her narration, I became so attached to Starr and the funny, loving, hurting, brilliant young woman that she is. Like, I want to be her best friend and go buy Jordans with her. Her boyfriend, Chris, is so cute and sweet and high school me would have wanted to date him (maybe current me does too, but that would be kind of creepy). Her parents are amazing, and her goofy, teasing-but-in-a-loving-way relationship with her brothers reminds me of my own.
Even Hailey, a wealthy, white friend of Starr's from school who is an especially problematic figure, is important and relatable -- I know plenty of Haileys. Honestly, I've probably been a Hailey at some point in my life. Through Hailey's ignorance, her little nagging jokes or comments that she doesn't think are offensive but in fact really hurt Starr, I think we see one of the more important takeaways for white readers. Just because we don't explicitly/consciously think or say things that we think are offensive to people of color, does not mean we aren't racist. Racism is so deeply imbedded in our society and its institutions that we as the more privileged race often don't even notice that it's there. But rest assured that the people it affects do notice and are hurt by it over and over.
The portrayals of the media and the police in THUG are also very important as they aren't given some biased or made-up coverage to coerce readers into seeing them as the villains; the things they say and do are literally pulled straight from reality. How many times have we heard about a black person being killed by a police officer, and the very next sentence is about his/her past run-ins with the law, history of drug use or gang involvement, *even when* that same person was completely unarmed and free of illegal substances at the time of their death? The media and police portraying Khalil that way and putting those doubts in the minds of public in THUG - that is not fiction.
Through the realistic characterization of how society reacts to police violence and the simultaneous insights into various characters' thoughts, feelings, and experiences, I feel like THUG says to even the most reluctant-to-sympathize, die-hard blue-lives-matter reader, "hey, these are people just like you." As cheesy as that sounds, I think that's hard for people to conceptualize sometimes when they see protests on the news and feel like their "values" or the nation they love and respect are under some kind of attack. In The Hate U Give, Thomas gives fair play to all sides of one of the more contentious issues in today's society - even when she certainly doesn't have to - and the "right" and "wrong" are still pretty clear. Authors of color - people of color - owe nothing to their white readers or white counterparts in terms of helping us understand, but Thomas did so anyway and we should all be grateful to her for that.
I know I've maybe sounded a little preachy here, but this book is just so important! And I am so in love with it, and grateful to it and to Thomas for giving the world something so needed in the form of a very entertaining young adult novel. I highly doubt that I'll have this much to say about many other books (lol) so thanks for giving me the chance here. :) Please feel free to leave comments and discuss! And above all, GO READ THIS BOOK. You will be wiser, more empathetic, and better for it.