Friday, May 5, 2017

Book Review: "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

Wow. Just wow.

In my life so far, I've had the opportunity to experience many different things, but there are certain things I'll never get/have to experience. For example, I'll never experience childbirth, not that I'm complaining, although I once had a cortisone shot in my hip flexor, and my orthopedist said she thought those hurt just as badly. (You can debate on that.)

I'm also fortunate enough that I'll never have to worry about the police viewing me as a threat as soon as they see me, just because of the color of my skin. I'll never have to think about the possibility of a routine traffic stop turning into something more dangerous just because a policeman gets nervous. That's something I take for granted, but I won't now that I've read Angie Thomas' searing, powerfully moving The Hate U Give.

Starr is 16 years old. She feels like there are two of her—the devoted daughter who lives in a poor neighborhood and saw her best friend get killed in a drive-by shooting when they were 10, and the student at the fancy prep school her parents sent her and her brothers to in order to get them out of the ghetto, the student who doesn't speak the way she does at home, and lets very few people into her "real world." Even her boyfriend at school, Chris, with whom she watches reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air doesn't know the "real" Starr, although he says he wants to.

"Funny how it works with white kids though. It's dope to be black until it's hard to be black."

One night while Starr is at a party in her neighborhood, she runs into her childhood friend Khalil. Khalil was her first crush, and although she hasn't seen him for a while, it feels good to reconnect. When a fight breaks out at the party, the two leave before things get out of hand. Not long afterward, police pull Khalil's car over, and before they know it, Khalil gets shot and killed by the cop. He was unarmed.

Khalil's death throws Starr and her family into a tailspin. The media has already branded Khalil a drug dealer and a thug. Starr doesn't feel like she can tell her friends at school what happened because that would be exposing them to a part of her she has tried to keep hidden, but she is angered by the attitude of one of her friends toward Khalil's shooting. Starr is afraid of the ramifications of telling the truth of what happened that night to police, prosecutors, everyone—what if police target her family? What if others think she should just keep her mouth shut? And will speaking up make the difference anyway, if most of the time white cops don't pay the price for shooting black people?

"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."

Starr's involvement in Khalil's death uncovers friction in a number of places—between her parents, who argue about the merits of getting their family out of their neighborhood versus their responsibility to making sure it doesn't die; between her father and his nemesis, the leader of a powerful gang, who is intertwined with Starr's family in too many different ways; between her and Chris, as well as her friends at school; and between the factions of their neighborhood and others in the community, some who riot for the sake of rioting and don't care what destruction they cause, and some who understand the power of their actions.

The Hate U Give is tremendously moving and just so current given what is happening in our society. While certainly it focuses on police brutality and the anger minorities feel when the authorities don't get punished for doing wrong, it is quick to point out that not all police are bad, just as not all black people are drug dealers, gang members, or looking to do harm. This is a book about racism, but it's also a book about family, friendship, loyalty, community, and how often it truly does take a village to save someone. This is a book that addresses the plight that many young black men face, but it doesn't place the blame on anyone but them, either.

I thought Thomas did a great job with this book, making sure it wasn't too heavy-handed in its messaging or too extreme in its plot. She created characters you grew to care about, characters you were invested in, so when pivotal events occurred, you were moved by them. This really blew my mind, and I think this is a book which really deserves all of the hype it is getting.

Several times in the book Starr's mother uttered the quote, "Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right." I hope The Hate U Give reaches those despairing whether doing the right thing is still worth it even if it doesn't get the result they want. Because it really, truly is.

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