The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

RATING: ★★★★★

One of the most expected and hyped releases this year in the YA world finally came out in the UK last week. In honour of its release, my review of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The Hate U Give is the story of Starr Carter, who lives in a poor American neighbourhood, but goes to a rich kids school. One night, Starr's friend Khalil gets shot by the police while Starr is in the car with him. The shooting resolves in a police investigation, riots, protests, but also causes Starr to feel torn between the two worlds she has been navigating.

The Hate U Give has been given a lot of publicity due to the incorporation of the Black Lives Matter theme. When Khalil gets shot, for no apparent reason, the media immediately jumps to the police officer's defence by stating that Khalil was a drug dealer and a thug (the title of the book comes from a 2Pac song where he states that thug stand for The Hate U Give). Somehow, they use this to justify the shooting. While reading this from Starr's point of view, it seems borderline insane. She was there, the reader was there, we know Khalil didn't do anything. But much too often, if not always, this is the narrative that is used in police brutality cases.

This novel is not without controversy. I'm white and when I told my friends, who are also mostly white, a lot of them got defensive off the bat. Some common claims:

"Oh, so this author is going to claim all cops are bad?"

"I wonder if she gets her facts straight or if she's part of the media that says that cops are always to blame."

"Why isn't there a book that is about violence against cops?"

1. These claims are all ridiculous.

2. I can't refute them as well as Angie Thomas does in her book. The Hate U Give is a nuanced novel, with realistic characters who can be morally ambiguous. While we have the cop who shot Khalil for no reason, Starr's uncle, Carlos, is also a police officer. He also believes Khalil's murder was wrong and stands up for his niece and her friend. Angie Thomas never argues that all cops are bad - she argues that institutionally there are issues that need to be fixed, because they are costing lives. She's arguing that many people have a prejudice against African Americans, which makes it easier to justify police violence with irrelevant reasons such as "he was a dealer", "he was a thug anyway".

This novel reminded me so incredibly much of Louise O'neill's Asking For It. So many novels about serious society issue portray perfect characters who something awful happens to. These two novels don't- Khalil wasn't perfect, just like the main character from Asking For It was a bitch. However, and this is so important for people to understand, this does not justify what happens to them. They do not deserve it. They are still humans and deserve the same respect as everyone else. Khalil was a drug dealer who was trying to help his family get by and by no means does that ever justify him being murdered. 

I love that Angie Thomas didn't shy away from this topic and was able to present readers with such a nuanced view. As a white European, the Black Lives Matter movement often feels far away and it is a rare privilege to be allowed this insight into the movement and the reasoning behind it. It is a privilege to discover the dynamics between Starr and her family; Starr and her neighbourhood; Starr and her white friends. It is a world I am usually unable to enter and I am extremely happy that I could learn and grow from this book.

This isn't an easy read - it will break your heart and make you angry and feel hopeless and confused at time. But it is so incredibly important. In the end, Starr finds her voice and I hope this novel inspires so many people to find theirs too and to find the strength to stand up for what is right - no matter what the cost is.

 

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist: Stay With Me - Ayobami Adebayo

RATING: ★★★★★

In a few days the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist will be announced, and in honour of that, I am kicking off my review section of the long list.

When this list was announced in early March, I knew I'd never be able to read all 16 books in a month, however I did read The Power by Naomi Alderman, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride  and the book I'm reviewing in this post - Stay With Me. Hopefully by June 7th, the day the winner is announced, I will have read the full long list, have discussed the shortlist in more detail over on my booktube page, and will be try to predict the winner!

I am starting off with Stay With Me because I finished this book today and it is impossible not to want to write about this novel.

The story follows Yejide and her marriage to Akin in 1980s Nigeria. They have been married for four years and their inability to conceive a child is blamed on Yejide. She tries everything, spiritually and medically, to get pregnant, but none of the solutions work. This puts a strain on their marriage and eventually her in-laws decide to introduce Yejide to Akin's second wife, Funmi, who he already secretly married. The second wife is traditionally believed to help the first wife get pregnant - one pregnant womb in the house should encourage another. However, Yejide is not traditional and does not accept this as part of her marriage.

Yejide's drive to look for solutions in a non-traditional way is exactly why I loved her so much. My knowledge of 1980s Nigeria is extremely limited, but the novel, due to amazing description by Ayobami Adebayo, easily sets the scene of the political struggle in the country. This struggle is also seen in the traditional gender roles that are slowly breaking down. While Akin is a respectful husband who encourages Yejide to get an education and haver her own career, his family is focused on her having a son. That's all she is reduced to - a good wife has children, if you don't have children, you're immediately a bad wife.

However, Yejide does not accept this. She keeps trying to conceive a child because she wants to, not because of pressure from the outside. And without spoiling the novel for anyone, Yejide goes through some awful events - events that were even too much for me at times and I usually love dark and twisted tales - and she handles herself with grace and strength. Whatever is thrown her way, Yejide knows how to respond and protect herself, and when needed also Akin. She is not a perfect character and she makes some bad decisions along the way, but I always understood and respected her thinking. There's not a person who can read this book and not root for Yejide and her journey.

Like I mentioned earlier, the writing in this book is phenomenal. Ayobami Adebayo seamlessly weaves together a tale of political unrest, familial drama and the struggles of a marriage. It never seems forced, all the characters are well rounded and every time I opened the book, I immediately saw the whole scene in front of me.

This is one of those books I dreaded finishing. Yejide and Akin felt so very real to me - they are both complex people, who have done some amazing and some awful things - and I just wanted to continue on the journey they were making. The ending was satisfactory, but I can never not want more when a book is so well written.

Costa Book Awards 2016

If you've been on my blog before, you'll know that I absolutely love the Costa Book Awards and have enjoyed both the longlists and shortlists in the previous years. However, 2016 was the year of my thesis and I missed out on reading the fiction shortlist like I usually do. 

Now that I am a free woman again, I decided to make up for this loss and read both the winner of the fiction and poetry category to prepare myself for the announcement of the overall winner tonight.

FallingAwake

 

Falling Awake by Alice Oswald

Before I start this review, I want to highlight my absolute lack of poetry knowledge. As I mentioned in my reading resolutions for 2017 video, I am not a poetry reader. Since I've never really read any poetry, besides the mandatory poems a English literature student has to read, I had no clue where to start finding poetry to read. And then I discovered that Falling Awake by Alice Oswald has won the poetry section of the Costa Book Awards and figured that was a good enough reason to start with that collection. 

Falling Awake isn't an easy poetry collection to read. Its premise is based on Greek mythology, which I actually found a comfort because I am very interested and have learned quite a bit about mythology. The collection consists of two parts and I must say that I found the second part a lot easier to understand than the first one.

The key with Falling Awake, for me at least, was to really take my time to read and re-read and think about what exactly I read. This is probably true for a lot of poetry, which is supposed to pack a lot in a small package, but it wasn't really my thing. The second part of the collection was enjoyable and easy enough to understand that one, very focused, read was enough for me, but the first part was just exhausting.

While I think this is probably due to my inexperience, Falling Awake was only half enjoyable for me. However, I'm excited to pick it back up in a few weeks and see if some thinking and time has changed my mind about the collection and my understanding of it.

DaysWithoutEnd

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

This book completely surprised me in every way possible. Days Without End is the story Thomas McNulty, a soldier who has fled the Irish famine and is followed through the Indian Wars and Civil War in America with John Cole, a friend he met when he was still a young child.

The first thing I really enjoyed about this novel is the new things I learned. Since I went to high school in Europe, my knowledge of both the Indian War and Civil War is limited. This novel really helped me understand how gruelling these wars were and also how incredibly futile for so many people. While Thomas fights against the Indians, he doesn't understand why he has to kill them. This is mirrored in the Civil War where he is on the side of the North, but none of the soldiers seem to realise that the war is about slavery. Neither of these wars, or maybe any war at all, is a grand moral fight. It is just soldiers following orders because they will be killed if they don't. Realising this was extremely eery but also made me realise, especially for the Indian War, how extremely useless and gruesome it was. 

However, Days Without End is a lot more than just a war story. Thomas and John start a relationship together, something highly uncommon in that time, and Thomas also struggles with his gender identity throughout the novel. Without giving too much away, Thomas starts experimenting at a young age with cross-dressing. First just for work, but slowly he starts questioning his gender identity more and more. The way Sebastian Barry was able to combine the masculinity of the violent war with Thomas search within himself was beautiful. I really enjoyed the complexity of Thomas and John's relationship, both with themselves and each other.

Days Without End is truly remarkable in its original approach to a war novel. While Falling Awake was hard for me to grasp, Days Without End easily guided me through unknown topics and made me fall in love with the characters at the same time.