The start of The Hate U Give pulled me in. The story is told in the first person by sixteen-year-old Starr (later I’ll go into my theories on the origins of her name and where the title of the book comes from). Starr’s voice as narrator is both funny, sincere, and authentic.

The Hate U GiveEven before much happens, it’s clear Starr has a story to tell in The Hate U Give. There’s a backstory eating away at her and we quickly find out she’s the only black girl attending a private school. She lives in the hood but travels forty-five minutes each way to the exclusive school. She’s fighting the contradictions of the two environments. She feels alienated at home because people think she’s bougie, even though she feels herself there. The contrast is forcing herself to behave in a way at school that stops people stereotyping her as ‘ghetto’. Although she’s learned to do this without thinking about it, she does think about it. Starr is aware that she’s not being herself but she’s trapped by what she knows her rich peers will think of her.

The action quickly picks up and shots pop off at a party. Starr escapes the drama with Kahlil, a friend since they were three. You get the impression that had she not gone away to school then there might have been a relationship there. But they did go in different directions. While she’s at school in the suburbs, he’s affording the latest kicks and gold chains. He tells her that he’s been ‘busy’ lately. Starr knows what ‘busy’ means in the hood but doesn’t want to believe he’s dealing the same stuff that turned his mother into a junkie.

Before they get far in Kahlil’s truck, they get pulled over by a police patrol car. The worst happens. Kahlil is shot dead by the white police officer right in front of Starr. She’s the only witness.

After the ‘incident’, as the police call it, Starr quickly realises that what happens next will depend on what she says happened. The police want to interview her to establish the ‘facts’ but seem more interested in Khalil. Her father warns her not to let them put words in her mouth. He’s advising her from the position of being a Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton follower. He’s into activism and the power of the people. Starr’s not into all that so much, she prefers Tumblr and sneakers. But she does believe in the truth. And she knows it may tear her community apart. This isn’t an isolated incident. There is an epidemic sweeping the nation of police shootings of black men.

She’s also acutely aware that her life is in danger because of what she saw.

This is author Angie Thomas’ debut novel.

Quick facts about Angie Thomas

As you saw in the video, she’s a big hip-hop fan and that includes a love for Tupac Shakur. This book feels very much like a tribute to him. Thomas acknowledges that he was a big inspiration for the book, especially the title. It comes from the tattoo he had on his stomach – THUG LIFE – which stood for The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone. Meaning that society reaps what it sows. Treat a bunch of kids bad, don’t give them equal opportunities etc. and that’s only going to come back and bite society on the ass. Thomas goes on to talk about The Rose That Grew From Concrete, which was a Tupac poem, about how kids growing up in difficult environments are still people. They shouldn’t be viewed differently because of where they come from.

Starr fights this contradiction of race and identity in her own personal life, only to be thrust to the forefront of the fight for justice between black communities and racist police departments.

Thomas doesn’t mention it in the below video about her inspiration for the book, but I understand Starr to be the name Tupac was going to give his daughter – if he’d had one. I liked this reference to the spirit of Tupac living on to fight for justice in the face of what is going on today in America. The name ‘Brenda’ was also used for Khalil’s mother, and this seems like a reference to Tupac’s track ‘Brenda’s Got A Baby’.

Angie Thomas on her inspiration for The Hate U Give

 

This is bigger that me and Khalil though. This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us, feels like us, and is experiencing this pain with us despite not knowing me or Khalil. My silence isn’t helping Us.

The above quote from Starr is one of several powerful lines from Starr. There is a clear struggle in Starr’s mind about what the right thing to do is, not only about what happened to Khalil, but also about attending a privileged white school and her dating of a rich white kid. So much of what she is experiencing is putting her on a contradictory collision course with her friends, family and neighbors. This wider story presented many more hooks to interest a diverse audience. I imagine people of all backgrounds will have cause to pause and think while reading this book.

I did.

Despite my longstanding support for Black Lives Matter, listening to this story from Starr’s perspective gave me a deeper understanding, and sadness, about the challenges facing racial equality in society. The story has a realistic and powerful message. I hope this book goes on to be something kids, all types of kids, study in school. I can’t voice strongly enough that this needs to replace some of those older books many schools are still studying, Catcher In The Rye for example. The Hate U Give is so much more important right now and relatable to the kids of today.

The THUG LIFE message is true and so we need to reach out to kid early and ensure we don’t give them hate. They need love. Love for themselves and love for each other, regardless of background or skin color.

Was there anything I didn’t like about this book? To be honest, that’s hard. Honestly, it was so good across the board. I had feared the end would be lacking something but Angie Thomas carried it home perfectly. Perhaps, I would have liked to have seen Starr’s experience inside the grand jury. This would have been quite a unique experience for a sixteen-year-old and I imagine it would have been pretty intense and difficult for her.

Maybe the movie will include this. Yes, that’s right, there’s a movie being made. Filming has just wrapped. So look out for that in 2018. Also stay tuned for her next book. Angie Thomas has been tight lipped on the details, so at this point I don’t know if it’s a sequel or another new story.

Verdict

I’ve always said I wouldn’t hand out a 5 star review unless I found a truly worthy story. This is one and it is extremely relevant in current times. This book captures the essence of the Black Lives Matter movement. I will be recommending The Hate U Give to as many people as I can and will read it again in the near future.

 I’m pleased to give The Hate U Give the first 5 star (should that be Starr?) review from UrbanFiction.org

More places to find Angie Thomas

Angie Thimas Website  Angie Thomas Twitter Angie Thomas Facebook Angie Thomas Goodreads Angie Thomas Amazon

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Sam Hunter
Author

Founder of UrbanFiction.org and supporter of all urban fiction authors. Author of the Makaveli’s Prince books. His first novel, Book One, was described by Street Literature as a “true tribute to hip-hop” and weaves a thrilling ride through some of hip-hop’s darkest secrets. You won’t be able to put his books down. They’re packed with conspiracy, drama and often centered on strong female characters. You’re in for a ride.


All his books are on Amazon Kindle and Google Play Books.