Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood 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.
This novel by debut author Angie Thomas packs an emotional punch. The American epidemic of unarmed black men being shot by law enforcement is an incredible divisive issue, and Thomas embraces the many factions and facets of the situation. She asks her readers to privately consult their own inner bias and determine for themselves the best possible outcome when there is little chance for a happy ending.
Starr Carter is not your average girl from the “ghetto”. The first thing that sets her apart is her strong family bonds. Starr is lucky enough to have a male role model in her life; her father is a proud black man who firmly believes that the only way to save his community from gangs and drugs is if people stick around and work together. Thomas does not play down the fact that Starr lives in a dangerous neighborhood; she lost her best friend in a drive-by shooting at age nine. Now sixteen, she is tired of hearing gun shots every night. But there is also a life and a spirit to Starr’s community, people help one another and give what they can to those who are less fortunate. This isn’t some Mad Max style wasteland ruled by constant warfare. The people of Garden Heights have known a lot of hard times, but they stick together and try to make the best with what they have. Too often the ghetto is depicted as a gray and crumbling area where everyone has ties to criminal activity. Thomas instead shows a more human side to the wrong side of the tracks.
“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”
Another thing that makes Starr unique among her peers is that her parents send her to an expensive private school where she is one of the only students of color. Some of the most interesting aspects of The Hate U Give is when Starr describes her own split personalities. There is “Ghetto Starr” who uses slang and knows how to survive on the tough streets of Garden Heights. Then there is “Williamson Starr”, a girl who makes sure never to use slang, has a white boyfriend and all white friends, and listens to Taylor Swift. Starr is walking a constant tight-rope trying to be black enough for her black friends but not too black for her white friends.
The Hate U Give takes a lot of the important points of the police brutality issue and runs at them headlong. This novel has the potential to make a lot of people uncomfortable, but it is the kind of discomfort that leads to personal growth. And while it did get a little overtly preachy towards the end, I would definitely recommend this book. Perhaps it would help in opening up a dialogue between the opposing forces on this tragic issue.
My rating; 4.5/5
You can find The Hate U Give here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.
Happy reading everyone!