Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, is a raw, hard-hitting look at the black experience in the US. I loved the book, but the experiences in it are far beyond my lived experiences so I found it to be a real eye-opener, and at times, a narrative I did not always understand looking through my mature, white, middle-class eyes.
The story begins with violence. The protagonist, Starr goes to a party where gunshots ring out so she leaves with her childhood bestie, Khalil. While driving her home they are pulled over by th ‘po-po’ and Khalil breaks every rule that Starr’s father (a former gang-banger who spent 3 years in prison) taught Starr not to do. Khalil is shot by the police office, whom Starr now refers to as Officer One-Fifteen, his badge number. Khalil was unarmed. Starr is the only witness to the shooting/murder.
Throughout the book Starr walks between two worlds. Her family have put her in a private school in the suburbs, a predominately white, middle-class school, where she struggles to fit in and hide her ‘hood’ self. When she is at home she tries to be her neighbourhood self and not been seen as putting on fancy airs as perceived by her neighbourhood friends as coming from her school environment. This dualism continues throughout the book where Starr’s father, BIg Mav, feels the family needs to stay in the neighbourhood and support it – he owns a grocery store in the community and her mother wants to move out to keep her family safe.
Starr eventually works up the courage, with her families support, to testify in front of a grand jury. Tension mounts and it seemed I lived through the experience by viewing it through Starr’s eyes in the hard-hitting, first person narrative that Thomas so skillfully weaves. This is such a fantastic YA social justice novel that damn I so want to teach it in a senior high school English class! While I say this, there is also a component to this story that I don’t understand, but think it would make a fantastic discussion with older teens; the connection to the title and Tupac Shakur’s philosophy ‘THUG LIFE’.
RATING: 5 stars