Review: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in a bad neighbourhood: the kind where her parents don’t like her going to parties because someone might get shot.
On the way home one night with her childhood friend, Khalil, the teenagers are stopped by the police. Even though he’s unarmed, Khalil gets shot dead by the white cop and Starr is the only witness.
She has to decide whether to keep quiet about the incident and protect her family from the police and the neighbourhood gangs, or speak up and try to get justice for Khalil to stop everyone believing the sweet boy she knew was a drug dealer who deserved to get killed.
“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Hate U Give for a while and it didn’t disappoint. I sat and read the bulk of the novel in one sitting, staying up until 1am, determined to find out what happened to Starr and her family.
This feels like a very timely novel, undeniably influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite her age, Starr is a political character; the way she was brought up, she can’t be anything else. After another of her friends was killed in a drive-by aged 10, Starr’s parents send her and her brothers to an expensive school in a white neighbourhood. But she still has to learn to navigate the neighbourhood she lives in. Her parents have always taught her to respect the police but be wary of them. Even though her uncle is a police detective, she knows that the cops might not treat her the way they’d treat her white friends, so it’s all the more tragic when she sees her best friend get killed because he didn’t realise just how dangerous the situation was.
But this is primarily a story about identity. Starr is caught between two worlds and she doesn’t know where she fits in, or how she should behave. She bemoans the fact that at school, where she’s one of two African American students in her year, she’s automatically cool, but at home, she has to work at it, and even then she often fails. She’s cautious around her school friends, being careful not to show anger in case people associate it with her race.
She often feels guilty about who she is, especially after Khalil dies. She wishes she could have done something to help him, but mostly she’s ashamed that she doesn’t speak up for Khalil and argue back against the people who call him a drug dealer and a gangbanger.
The Hate U Give peels back the layers of Starr’s world and the people who live in it. Every character has hidden dimensions, from the cantankerous old barber who carries his old war wounds with him, to Starr’s ex-gang member father who protects the neighbourhood kids and is determined that his children should have a better life.
This is a genuinely moving and punchy story with a strong political vein. It confronts the idea that African American kids are bad or less than, just because they’re from a rough neighbourhood or they chose to join a gang. As the story shows, that isn’t really a choice at all.
If it comes down to protecting someone you love, or selling drugs, what would you do? If it comes down to earning money to support your family or selling drugs, what would you do?
We see things in black and white, but it isn’t as easy as that.
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