by Angie Thomas
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
The Hate U Give (a reference to Tupac Shakur’s acronym for Thug Life: The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody) is a moving story of a girl named Starr who watches her best friend, Khalil, die at the hands of a white police officer, during a “routine” traffic stop. The officer, whom she refers to as One-Fifteen in an attempt to memorize his badge number, had pulled them over for a broken taillight. When Khalil doesn’t follow his instructions to the letter, the officer, assuming that he had seen a gun in the car, shoots him.
Starr and Khalil are black, and they live in, as they call it, the hood. Starr’s beloved uncle is also a detective (or possibly cop?) in the same neighborhood, though he has moved out to the suburbs, where Starr also attends private school. She is dating a white classmate, Chris, and plays on the basketball team with her best friends, Maya (Chinese) and Hailey (white). Starr’s father was in prison for three years when she was little and her uncle helped raise her during that time. The book explores these many varied and complicated relationships extremely realistically.
Initially, Starr wants to remain anonymous as the sole witness to Khalil’s death, but as time goes by, she is unable to stay quiet, being interviewed on TV (with a blurred out face, but friends recognize her right away) and eventually joining the protests. The city-wide public reaction, with tear gas and tanks and riots, reminded me strongly of Ferguson, Missouri. Starr is targeted for calling out the biggest druglord in the neighborhood and eventually, Starr’s father’s store is burned in the riots. He decides to move the family out to the suburbs, while rebuilding in the old neighborhood, a decision for which he is criticized.
There is more to Khalil’s story than just another black boy killed by a white cop. There is some nuance, as rumors start to fly that Khalil was a drug dealer, which makes some people say he deserved to die. But we get to know the Khalil that Starr knows, that Garden Heights knows – a good kid, loving, smart, funny, cute, taking care of his sisters and even his absentee crackhead mom, who had so much to offer. The story just scratches the surface of the vast and racist prison system in the United States, and I would love to see more fiction address it even further head-on. (Incidentally, at the same time my grownup book club is reading James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, which also addresses racism and prison in America in the 1920s-1960s, with frustrating parallels.)
Starr does not tell her prep school classmates about what she’s going through, even her closest friends and boyfriend, and when they find out, they are upset that she didn’t tell them. However, she is constantly aware of her two selves: her school self is a very carefully curated persona who is not the least bit “hood.” Eventually, Chris gets swept up in the riots (he is given an out and stays with the group instead of bailing, to his credit). Chris is a decent character, as is Maya (minority solidarity, as she says), but Hailey is pretty unabashedly racist and eventually Starr and Maya dump her. (I loved the conversation between Starr and her mom about this one, by the way.)
There’s so much more to say and this feels like just the tip of the iceberg. Also, there’s another great review over at Reading (As)(I)an (Am)erica that goes into even more details.