With Moonlight winning the Oscar for best film and the book and its film adaptation, Hidden Figures,receiving immense acclaim, it’s not so surprising that a YA novel inspired by the shootings that launched the Black Lives Matter movement would currently be riding for several weeks at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. Even before its release, there was a lot of hype around it–thirteen publishers bid for the manuscript, with Balzer & Bray leaving victorious and author Angie Thomas receiving a six-figure, two-book deal. Fox 2000 has also optioned the film rights.
I must admit that I was a little wary of all the hype. After the Twilight spawned vampire fad, I know that just because a topic is popular doesn’t mean the story it’s packaged in is stunning. Publishing is a business, and sometimes the story we need isn’t necessarily the story that’s projected to make bank. Fortunately, The Hate U Give did not disappoint and has a lot for everyone to love. I devoured the book in roughly twenty-four hours, happy to spend those six or so hours it took to read it cover to cover.
The Hate U Give is about teen Starr Carter who is the sole witness to the murder of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a police officer when they are pulled over leaving a party. Starr is suddenly caught in the grief and terror of the incident as her neighborhood protests the death, her white classmates at the prep school she attends spout hurtful perceptions spawned from the news coverage, and activists seek the sole witness of this crime to help fight for justice. Inspired by the murders of black men and women by police that have rocked the U.S. in recent years and been a part of our history since Emmett Till’s death, this story gives a voice to the injustice and anger surrounding these events that is both educational and endearing.
As a white female who grew up in a nice suburban area, Starr’s life and community were entirely unfamiliar to me. In the past, I’ve only glimpsed the lives and struggles of African-Americans through the music of Childish Gambino or TV shows like Atlanta and The Wire. Akin to Childish Gambino’s Camp, Starr feels torn between her identity in her poor, black neighborhood and at her predominantly rich, white prep school. Like Atlanta and The Wire, you’re endeared to drug dealers and black adolescents who don’t always make the best choices, but come to understand how in some ways they felt like those were the only choices to make.
I braced myself for an antagonizing read that calls out white people for their wrongs against minorities. This wasn’t the case, because this is a complex issue where blame can’t be placed in a black and white manner. The white characters who say that Khalil deserved to die or was already a dead man walking because he was a suspected drug dealer and gangbanger are called out alongside the gangbangers and other neighbors who respond to injustice with gunfire and arson. But Thomas also gives us Starr’s white boyfriend, Chris; her father, a reformed drug dealer and gangbanger; and DeVante, a black teen trying to escape the wrath of a gang leader. These characters show that stereotypes and black-and-white approaches to these issues don’t suffice. People and problems are too complex to be judged as quickly as the cop who shot Khalil did.
The story does a great job of helping readers to consider people complexly and consider all perspectives of situations–not just how the news reports it. Likewise, the inclusion of the philosophies of Tupac and the Black Panthers shows that this issue is not new, but a struggle deeply rooted in history and culture. It brings news stories and Twitter hashtags to life. It makes you empathize with the people who’ve marched in streets and torched businesses. This story of death, injustice, and anger is also a story of love, rich culture and history, family, and hope. This is an important and enlightening read for both skeptics and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.