Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray, 2017)

While Angie Thomas’ first novel is being marketed as a young adult novel. I would greatly encourage all readers interested in modern America, racial issues, or violence among youth to read it. The book is probably most appropriate for older teen readers (15+) due to violence and some language. It’s a fairly easy read but has a lot of content.

Starr Carter is sixteen years old, lives with her family in the ghetto of Garden Heights. Her dad, a former gang-banger who spent time in prison, has since turned his life around and owns the local grocery store. After witnessing the death of a friend in a drive-by shooting, Starr and her brothers are sent across town to a prestigious, predominantly white school.

Starr is no stranger to violence and drugs but her family life is stable and the Garden is home. She feels pulled between the two worlds she inhabits – her black neighbourhood and her white school – and knows she no longer quite fits into either one. Attending a party one night in the Garden, she’s uncomfortable and out of place and happy to live early with an old friend, Khalil, after a fight breaks out.

Driving home, Khalil is pulled over by a police officer and Starr becomes the only witness when the cop shoots and kills Khalil. If you’ve been watching the news at all in the past two years, you might be familiar with how this story plays out.

We follow Starr over the following weeks as tensions and violence rise in her neighbourhood. As her friends at school make disparaging remarks about Khalil being a drug dealer or a member of a gang. And as Starr struggles with finding her voice and deciding whether to come forward publicly to defend Khalil, or to protect herself first.

While I grew up in a very ethnically diverse neighbourhood, I’m not that familiar with African-American culture so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Thomas’ depiction of the ghetto. Parts of the novel felt like they dipped into the cliche – Starr’s father’s backstory, for example, or even a side story about her family helping a young man escape from the local gang – but I have to defer to Thomas’ knowledge and overall the book felt very authentic. It’s filled with pop culture references and language that is up-to-date and, I think, would appeal to a youthful audience.

Thomas does an excellent job of depicting Starr’s split between her two worlds, using language and dialogue to show how she adapts to her surroundings. Starr realizes the need to be tightly controlled around her white friends at school, that she can never slip or risk being stereotyped as the “ghetto girl” or the “angry black girl”. There is a decent progression of her finding a better balance between these worlds and learning to trust more people on both sides.

Overall, I think this book makes a great introduction for anyone interested in the Black Lives Matters movement. It could offer many starting places for discussion with young readers, or anyone who might want to know more.

Dear Americans

Dear Americans,

Tomorrow is your election day. Tomorrow you’ll be voting with your confusing electoral system that I don’t really understand and deciding who leads your country for the next four years.

It’s weird being a Canadian during the U.S. election season (which always seems to last so bloody long!) I can’t imagine it’s the same when we’re voting in a new Prime Minister. We see your election ads on TV. We watch your presidential and vice-presidential debates. Weird things your congressmen say are reported in our newspapers. And we wait, a little nervously, to see how you as a country will vote.

Because, and I kind of hate to admit this but it’s true, how you vote really, really affects us. Who leads your country for the next four years has a lot to say on how our country is run. Your economic and military decisions become our economic and military decisions, just as your television, movies, and music have become ours too.

I can’t help but follow your elections because they’re plastered all over my TV and computer. And we laugh at it a little, up here in the not-so-freezing North, because you take yourselves so seriously and never seem to doubt that the rest of the world is interested too. I get enraged, sometimes, about the things that are being said, particularly about women’s health and the ignorant statements coming from the mouths of men who should know better. And then I feel thankful that I live in a country where I don’t have to worry about my access to healthcare being taken away or restricted. I wonder why I get so caught up in it when it doesn’t affect me.

Here’s the thing, America, we like you. Not all the time and none of us ever like everything about you, but we care about what happens to you. You’re like our aggravating older brother, who picks on us and pulls our hair and doesn’t always stick up for us on the playground. We know that your decisions, like an older brother’s, often become our decisions.We know that we’ll have to keep standing up to you and keep reminding others that we’re different and unique countries but we know that our paths, for better or for worse, are intertwined.

So, Americans, vote well tomorrow. Vote from your heart but, more importantly, your head. Above all, do not let ignorance or evil or hate triumph. You can decide for yourself which political party best represents those things. We trust you. Kind of.

Love,

A Canadian Friend

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.    – Jack Layton