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.