This is the story of Starr, a sixteen-year-old from south central L.A. – not the part of L.A. where white people live in big houses, but the part they stay well clear of. But Starr doesn’t quite fit in. She and her brother go to a private school 45 minutes drive from home, where most of the other students are white. Her mom is a nurse whose training has provided her with a vital skill that she uses to help those in her community but that also gives her opportunities outside of it. And her dad, though once involved in gang life, has since gone straight and now runs a grocery store and gives honest work to young men in the neighbourhood.
One night, against her better judgment and her parents’ rules, Starr goes to a party. At the party she runs into her childhood best friend, Kahlil. The two are mid-catch-up when an altercation breaks out, quickly leading to gunshots. They flee, and Kahlil offers to drive Starr home. On their way they are pulled over by a white police officer, who shoots Kahlil and then keeps his gun trained on Starr as she kneels next to Kahlil in the street, holding him while he dies.
This is the catalyst for a series of events that will leave Starr trapped between her neighbourhood and the police, between the memory of her friend and her own safety, and between who she has to be in her white school and who she grew up as.
Though my own background couldn’t be further from Starr – I’m a white girl who grew up on a small island off the west coast of Canada – there was something about how this book was written that made it feel very real to me, and made me feel that, while my own experience could never put me in Starr’s shoes, this book brought me as close as any could.
One of the aspects of this book that brought it to life for me was how Angie Thomas wrote a beautiful balance between disparate elements throughout the book. Starr’s neighbourhood and neighbours are split between threatening and familial. There’s this sense of potential danger because of the gang activity and other criminal elements that surround Starr. But there’s also a wonderful sense of protectiveness and unity between the families trying to raise their children and create home and safety in the midst of rough surroundings and limited prospects. They’re people. For worse, and for better. Most are neither angels nor villains, and all have depths that are explored throughout the book.
Starr is in a unique position in her community because she has one foot in each of two very different worlds – worlds that rarely come into contact with one another and couldn’t be more different. Her life is also full of exceptions and situations that challenge stereotypes and categorizations. For example, her friend is killed by a police officer, and it would have been easy for Angie Thomas to write this as an us vs. them story with Starr’s community aligned firmly against the police. But instead, Starr’s beloved uncle is a police officer. It would also have been easy to draw lines based on race, but Starr’s boyfriend is white. Or to judge people based on their decisions – to become involved in gang life or make a huge mistake – but both of these situations are also addressed and instead highlight the importance of allowing for change, growth and second chances.
Starr’s life is full of frustrations and stereotypes she is forced into, yet it is also full of exceptions that prove that there are alternative ways to communicate and respectful ways to bridge differences. But there is still a through-current of resignation at how Starr’s family and neighbours are treated based on their race and locale, and how this doesn’t ever seem to change – which also seemed pretty accurate given the current situation in the US.
I was blown away by this book. It may be Young Adult, but please, please, please don’t let that stop you. If there’s one YA book that defies categorization based on intended audience, it is (appropriately) this one. It is beautiful, affecting and timely. Whatever perspective you hold, this book will challenge it. I wish everyone could read it – regardless of age or race – because it is such a beautiful piece of writing that talks about a tragic story too often played out in real life, while simultaneously gently giving the reader a sense of hope, love, and a taste of a different world view. One of the valuable lessons I’ve learned that this book reinforced is that no matter your moral stance and personal behaviour, we are all born with a racial inheritance that is inescapable. As much as we’d like to think the world has changed, there are always unacknowledged ways our histories manifest in today’s world – be it to provide privilege or prejudice. This is a wonderful book, no matter what criteria you judge it on, and one that I hope will help introduce an important topic to a new audience. I can’t recommend it enough.
**Trigger warning: as this review and the book description mention, there is police brutality in this book, along with a lot of discussion of race and prejudice. It’s well done, but it is not an easy read, so bear that in mind in deciding when/if to read it.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. – Goodreads
Book Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Published By: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Released: February 28, 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Race
Date Read: July 2-4, 2017