BOOK REVIEW: The Hate U Give

Finally, a book review for one of the most highly anticipated books of 2017, inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement. A book that has sparked a frantic bidding auction involving 13 publishing houses. A book for which a movie is already in the works, starring Amandla Stenberg. Today, I am reviewing The Hate U Give or for short, THUG, by Angie Taylor

My rating: 5/5

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood 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, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighbourhood becomes a war zone. 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 not only destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.

My review:

The book’s title is inspired by Tupac’s take on Thug Life: ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fuck Everybody.’

Where do I even start with this book? I was glued to it till the early hours of dawn. The writing is beautiful, atmospheric and immersive, and all the little details the author gave about her characters made it seem so real; and not only with Starr, the main character.

Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old African-American girl who is caught between two worlds: one where she lives in Garden Heights,a place with a troubling history of gang violence, and the other of her predominantly white prep school. Starr often feels like an outsider in both worlds. At her school she can’t be her real self for fears of being termed ‘ghetto’ or ‘angry black girl’. While in her neighbourhood, Starr has grown apart from the people she grew up with, including Khalil, her former best friend and first crush. They reunite after several months at a party, after which Khalil offers to drive her home when shooting ensues.

“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and bees. The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.”

An officer pulls their car over because of a broken headlight. Khalil protests at first but eventually gives in and follows orders; stepping out of the car. But as he reaches for the car door in order to ask Starr if she’s okay, the officer shoots him and he dies in front of Starr.

The Hate U Give is not just a story of dealing with grief, it’s a story about finding the courage to do something bigger than yourself, for a cause, for a friend who died simply because he reached for a hairbrush. It’s a story of smashing stereotypes and crushing them under the soles of your feet.

A unarmed teenage boy does not deserve to die because a white officer felt ‘threatened’. A dead boy does not deserve for his named to be dragged through the dirt; to be wrongly dubbed a gangbanger and a drug dealer.

Because that’s not where Starr’s struggles end. When she finally opts to testify as the prime witness, officers hound her with questions and yet more questions, implying Khalil was responsible for his fate, and with no actions being taken against the officer, whom Starr refers to as Officer One-Fifteen for most of the book.

“What’s wrong with saying his life matters too?”

“His life always matters more!” My voice is gruff, and my throat is tight. “That’s the problem!”

Starr is grilled intensively both at the court and by the media, and later in the book, her family receives backlash from the police department, while the officer responsible walks free.

The family dynamic of the book is fantastic. Both of Starr’s parent are massively supportive of her decisions which is a fresh idea in YA fiction, a genre in which, more than often, most of the parents are dead. Her older brother Seven left me in tears on several occasions and made me wish I had someone like him in my life. I especially loved the dynamics between Starr and her white boyfriend Christopher. Their love was amazingly geeky, and based on a mutual love of basketball and The Fresh Prince.

Another thing about this book, what with all the Disney and Jonas brother references, it is the only book perhaps so inclusive for a 90s kid like me. I got every single pop culture reference of the book. Another aspect I liked about the book was the toxic relationship between Starr and one of her best friends, how quick she is to accuse Starr of being insensitive, all while she is the one being racist. This was pretty point-on as white people are often the one to turn the tables on POCs by stating that they are ‘ganging up’ on them, and is often referred to as ‘gaslighting.’

Starr is a flawed character, but that’s what makes her so relatable, and she narrates her story with a voice so raw and unique, it literally bursts out of the pages. This book will ensue lots of ugly crying, so I’ll suggest a box of tissues. But let me make something clear: Starr is no Katniss Everdeen, with a bow and arrow. She is a WOC trying to understand the difference between right and wrong, the tiny differences in skin colour that change our lives. She is also a teenage girl, agonising over how to find the courage to show the real Starr to the world; the girl who cusses and speaks her mind, the girl who likes Black Jesus, and is accepted everywhere.

And that makes her, not only a more complex character, but a braver one than Katniss Everdeen.

Give it a read. You won’t regret it.

Author: Antara Gupta Roy

Editor: Mara Zain

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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