Category: Fiction / Young Adult
Synopsis (Goodreads): 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, 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.
Rare is the book that lives up to the hype created around it because where there are expectations, disappointment is sure to follow. However with The Hate U Give, all I can say is…wow.
The themes at the core of the book are highly topical and have been addressed many times, from numerous points of view. The complexities of race in America, police violence, prejudice and injustice are all frequent subjects of press and media coverage on the Black Lives Matter movement, powerful non-fiction writing from the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates, and satirical fiction from Paul Beatty to name a few.
As important as all of the aforementioned is in drawing attention to the systemic racism that underpins life for millions of Americans, the greatest strength of The Hate U Give is that it sends this important message through a compelling story centered around sassy, smart and self-aware teenager Starr. You get to know, love and cheer on Starr, her family and their community in the aftermath of Starr witnessing the killing of her best friend by a white police office.
Starr’s voice comes through as humorous, honest and authentic, and she would be an inspirational role model for teenagers and young women everywhere. You find yourself sympathizing with her as she tries to reconcile the conflict she faces in what she knows to be true about her life in a poorer neighbourhood, her family, and the community in which they live, versus what is actually perceived by society.
Parts of the story were heartbreaking, such as the way the cops behaviour and treatment of Maverick outside his store changes and becomes instinctively rougher and more suspicious once they realise he is Starr’s (the witness’s) dad, or before that the very litany that runs through Starr’s head on how to behave when her and Khalil are pulled over by the police officer – even though they aren’t doing anything wrong. How do you reconcile yourself to a world in which at the age of twelve your parents have to have two talks with you? The first one, the ‘usual’ birds and the bees talk, and the second the more sinister how to behave if a cop stops you. Side note (in case you’re curious): 1) Do whatever they tell you to do. 2) Keep your hands visible. 3) Don’t make any sudden movements. 4) Only speak when they speak to you.
A lot of the prejudices and misconceptions between the white and black communities alluded to within the story are instinctive and rooted deep in misunderstanding. Given the complexity of the issue, this gulf will continue to exist until we share and ultimately understand where these feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger and injustice are coming from, and why. This is what makes books like this one essential reading – ultimately…powerful, timely and utterly unforgettable.