"The Hate U Give" Shines A Light On Starr (Book Review)
Setting The Scene
Let me be forward with you: THIS BOOK GAVE ME ALLLLLLLLL THE FEEEEELLLLSSSS.
Not just the fuzzy warm and cozy ones, but the harsh and painful ones too. The feelings that leave you ugly crying in your favorite reading chair declaring that you are done participating in existence for the rest of the day. The emotions, good and bad, rolled one after the other as I read page after page. By the end, I felt renewed and stirred into action. But like Starr, I had some hesitation that I can't ignore.
I almost didn't finish this book. I started recommending it to friends after I was a few chapters in but I hit a wall at about 100 pages. I put this book down and didn't pick it up for weeks. I think I finished another book or started something else, but I didn't want to read The Hate U Give. I would give rave reviews if I was asked about it, but I had essentially abandoned it. I knew what was on the other side of this finished book and I never felt ready to face it.
Written by Jackson, Mississippi native, Angie Thomas, and inspired by the recent events that lead to the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give (THUG) is a fictional account of a black neighborhood on edge. Told through the eyes of 16-year-old Starr Carter, the book takes you through the days surrounding the death of Starr's best friend, Khalil, by the hands of a police officer. Starr happens to be the only witness to the incident and as the negative opinions pile up about who Khalil was (or what kind of person he may have been), Starr isn't sure who to trust. The media says he's a drug dealer and a thug, the kids at her mostly white prep school across town couldn't care less about another dead black kid, and now the local gang leader wants Starr to keep quiet about the incident. Can she find the courage to stand up for the justice she knows Khalil deserves without losing the other people she cares about?
The Best of the Best
I followed Starr's story and became a silent onlooker, with tears in my eyes, as she talked about her dual existence between the worlds of the white prep school and the black neighborhood. I understood her teen experiences of voluntary bussing and being the constant outsider. I saw myself in her story and at the same time, wanted to be the mother figure that could comfort Starr and tell her it would be okay. Even though I would sometimes disagree with her actions, I always understood why she did what she did. I accepted her teen angst because of her trauma was recognizable and all too common and I was always on her side. She was completely real to me, and I felt pride in her decisions as I closed my book after the final page. She is one of the most interesting protagonists I have experienced.
The entire book was filled with images people and not caricatures of what people look and sound like. The Carters were just one example of a family trying to make a positive impact on their community with the sad reality that a better life may lie outside of it. Friends and family populated Starr's world, and I became better for it. These relationships kept her grounded and showed that blackness did not mean isolated. Even the badest of the bad in this world had people they depended on, creating a community as real as my own.
And there is no doubt that THUG is an activist text. In a world were so many of us feel helpless, Thomas was able to articulate my feelings and what I felt were my own shortcomings. Then she showed me as a reader, what I could do to make that change in a multitude of ways. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will find comfort in the fact that the activism lives in many of the book's characters, not just Starr.
I had to stop reading a few times from the overwhelming sense of sadness I would have. I too lost a close friend at 16 (very different circumstances) and the feelings Starr spoke of are very real. Then, I decided to pick it up again and determined to finish it. I got through 300+ pages in less than two days. Once I got into the meat of the story, I couldn't put it down.
I was completely surprised at the size of this book, a tome at 444 pages. The educator in me always worries that children of color, really anyone who sees a page count as stressful, would dismiss this just from its size. Know that it gives you the complete immersion into a world that many of us have known.
This book is too good to be left unread. You may think it's a lot of mental work that you can't bring yourself to consume, but you should. The Hate U Give is masterfully written and exceptional in describing the painful emotion of losing a friend and finding yourself in the process. It has been given enormous praise and rightfully so. The time you spend reading this book is worth every page. It reminds you that activism comes in many forms, and that you should use your voice to the best of your abilities.
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About THE Author
Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to guide the authors of tomorrow into the bookstores of today. When she's not hanging out on line, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.