2017 only just started and I think I already read the best book of 2017.
Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Publication Date: February 28 2017
Hardcover: 464 Pages
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice. Movie rights have been sold to Fox, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) to star.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher via Netgalley
Format (e- or p-): ebook
There are multitudes within the pages of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a powerful, heart-wrenching, hopeful, beauty of a book.
Starr is a sixteen-year-old who lives in two worlds: one is Garden Heights, the poor, mostly black, gang-ravaged neighbourhood where she was born and still lives in with her family. It’s where her father has his local store, where her childhood friends are. Garden Heights is home: even with its tragedies and dangers.
The other is Williamson Prep, the posh, suburban, mostly white high school where Starr and her brothers go. She has her own friends there, a white boyfriend. Most of the time, her two lives are kept separate and at one point Starr muses:
Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.
But keeping the two lives disconnected is not only exhausting but it feels more and more like the type of fraught separation that is determined by external pressure rather than by personal belief. The arc that shows the conflict between Garden Heights Starr and Williamson Starr is but one of the threads here. That same arc is one that also afflicts her parents, her older brother Seven, her beloved uncle Carlos. Home, community and wanting to feel safe (and feeling guilty about leaving others behind), personal responsibility are recurring themes that are beautifully built within the story. It’s part and parcel of who they are, that conflict already brewing when a horrible, heart-breaking tragedy strikes:
Starr and her childhood friend Khalil are coming back home from a party when they are stopped by a white police officer and Khalil is murdered in front of Starr. His death becomes national news, the stories about his life as a thug and drug dealer become the official narrative to justify his killing, and an enquiry is opened about his death with Starr as the sole witness.
Although Starr is sadly not personally new to tragedy – when she was ten, her best friend was killed by a stray bullet in front of her eyes – Khalil’s death feels like something else: it too becomes part of a historical narrative, part of a movement.
At the end of the day though, Khalil was just a boy. And he lived.
I said there are multitudes within The Hate U Give: one of them is about narratives: how do we build them, what are the stories we tell and why, the historically constructed systemic racism that plagues lives at its centre, how to build identity around it (going back to Starr’s sense of self). Around it, Angie Thomas intertwined stories about second chances, regret, survival. As you can probably imagine, there is no kidding around: The Hate U Give is filled to the brim with grief, anger, sadness, trauma. But akin to life, it’s also a narrative that shows the complex lives of people: how we laugh, love, commune, share, hope and relate.
It’s a book that feels important. It’s an incredibly political book that feels topical, timely, essential. It’s harrowing in many ways. It is so beautiful, because it’s also about families, of blood and found. Starr’s nuclear family is incredible, and it has become one of my favourites EVER. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I read a more sympathetic, generous, portrayal of a family. Her father is an ex-gang member, an ex-con, a man who turned his life around for his family and his community and is just such a cool dad (and incidentally, his relationship with Starr’s mother is freaking awesome. Starr says they are her OTP, they are mine too). They are so warm and open and they make room for other people too. The most unexpected turn of events in this novel, is the one surrounding a kid called DeVante whose arc did not go where I thought it would but he too, become part of their family. No character is left undefined, and Starr has a superb voice. And there is so much more here: Starr’s relationship with her best friends from school, with her white boyfriend, with her father and brothers, with her community.
The book is not out until February but I wanted to write a rare early review for a change: to give you time to prepare, to make sure everybody knows it’s coming. This is more than award and syllabus-worthy stuff: it is potentially life-altering.
Notable quotes / parts
“’Pac said Thug Life stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.’”
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“Listen! The Hate U—the letter U—Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”
Rating: 10 – Perfect.
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