Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: The Hate U Give

During the #BookBuddyAThon last week, my book buddy Michael and I chose to read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas as our buddy read. This book absolutely blew me away and I am so glad that we picked this book to read together. I knew I had to take time to write a full review on this book to encourage folks to pick up this book because I truly believe everyone needs to read it, especially if you live in the United States.

Angie Thomas has written one of the most, if not THE most, important YA contemporary novels of the last decade. Many people are marketing this book as being inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and while that may be true, I would say that that is an extremely reductive description of this book. The Hate U Give is honestly so much more than that. This book captures the many struggles of people of color, especially black people, in the United States, specifically focused around police brutality, the killing of unarmed black people by American police officers, and the lack of justice that is brought to this community a regular basis though our justice system. Thomas has done sure a huge service to the world and especially the United States by writing this book and has written about this very delicate topic in a way that is accessible to anyone to get a glimpse into what it means to be black in the United States today. White folks need to read this book and understand what the people in our country are going through every. single. day.

The Hate U Give is narrated by our protagonist, Starr Carter, a black teenager in modern day America who lives two different lives - her life at home in Garden Heights, a low-income, gang ridden city, and her life at school in Williamson, an extremely affluent, upper class, predominantly black town. Starr struggles on a regular basis with what version of herself she should be in these two environments, fearing that being too much of herself would label her as a "thug" in Williamson and label her as "snobby" or "white" in Garden Heights. Starr is often exhausted by constantly putting on a front for her peers - something PoC struggle with regularly in the US. After fleeing a fight that breaks out at a party Starr attends in Garden Heights, she and her friend Khalil are pulled over by a white police officer on an empty street. Starr witnesses Khalil get shot and killed by this officer, and her story takes off from there.

I see Starr in so many of the students that I work with. I work at a predominantly white institution (PWI) and the majority of our students come from very affluent backgrounds. A lot of our students of color feel this same identity struggle that Starr goes through on a daily basis. Many of the students I work with have witnessed instances of police brutality first-hand. Many of the students I work with have lost friends or family members in their home towns and have had to deal with the same level of grief Starr deals with in this story. This book hits so close to the stories I hear from my students on far too regular of a basis and my heart broke over and over again for them while I was reading Starr's journey. Books never make me cry, but while I was reading this story I definitely felt a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, and burning in my eyes. It was all just so real and appalling that things like this happen every day in the US.

Not only did Thomas write Starr's story in a way that the reader could really connect with her, but she wrote her supporting characters in a way that really painted a whole picture. The details of each characters' back story is so rich and detailed that you could tell that Thomas really took her time with this novel and did not take the responsibility of telling this extremely important story lightly. I could feel the pain of Seven's need to take care of her sisters that live in an abusive household. I could feel the struggle of Maverick trying to take care of his family by breaking ties with his gang and taking responsibility for the time he missed while in prison. I could feel the bond between Maya and Starr strengthen when they finally became fed up with Hailey's ignorance. I identified so much with Chris who strived to understand Starr and her life in Garden Heights and his willingness to use his white privilege to go to bat for her and her family. Every character's story painted a full picture and I really appreciate the care Thomas took when telling this story.

I also greatly appreciate Thomas being completely unapologetic in telling Starr's story. As the reader, you felt the anger and frustration and pain Starr felt. You were there right along with her and the only way you were able to do that was because Thomas was 100% honest with her own experience as a woman of color living in the United States. Though this is a work of fiction, you can tell that 99% of this story is true. The situations are true. The feelings are true. I truly appreciate Thomas's vulnerability in telling this story because it would not have had the same impact if she held anything back.

Of course, I gave this book a...
5/5 Stars

It would feel so wrong to give this book any other rating. The Hate U Give is so timely and so important. It creates discussion in the YA community about this topic and honest dialogue on racism and police brutality at the YA age is so essential. It is part of our nation's history and it is part of our nation's present, and if we don't continue to speak honestly about it, it will continue to exist. The more we talk about it on every age level, the more we can work together as a society to fight it. PLEASE READ THIS BOOK.

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