Review: The Hate U Give

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Of all societal issues that have played a part in shaping modern America, one of the most controversial is racism. ‘The Hate U Give’ follows the story of Starr Carter, a black teenager whose life is shaken when she witnesses first-hand the killing of her friend Khalil by a police officer, and her journey to get justice for his death, within which she faces many trials as result of her ethnicity.

The pivotal point of this novel comes from Starr’s blackness which, as we see with the progression of the story, effects our lead in many ways. We see Starr juggle a double life as she lives in a majority black neighbourhood, Garden Heights but attends a posh suburban school, Williamson Prep, where she is one of the few minorities present. In order to fit in, she takes on split personalities, speaking and acting completely different at her home of Garden Heights than in the posh prep school she attends with her brothers, resulting in a constant pressure on Starr as she tries not to let her “blackness” slip out.

“Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang- if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her ‘hood’.”

However, after the death of her friend, her precarious life begins to break apart. The media describe Khalil as being a drug dealer, something unbeknownst to Starr but, in her two worlds, it is received two very different ways. Garden Heights sees it as a way of vindicating the cop, constantly referred to as ‘One-Fifteen’, de-humanizing the police officer in the same way Khalil has been. It all leads to an all too common wave of anger and sense of injustice.

The Black Lives Matter movement was a big inspiration to Thomas during the writing of the novel

Conversely, at Williamson Prep, there is a strong disconnect to the events. Students want to protest, but less out of genuine anger and more because it’s “trendiness”, that is if they wish to do so at all, because of Khalil’s infamous drug dealer status.

As much as her wider world is affected, Starr’s personal connections are tested also. Some of Starr’s friends at Williamson Prep, don’t quite grasp the gravity of the situation Starr is going through, and thus reveal their true selves once their relationship with the protagonist is stretched to breaking point. This comes into effect at home also, with Khalil’s friends not seeing Starr as being a true friend, having become so indoctrinated into that “white school” far away.

Perhaps some of the most emotional moments we see come from Starr and her boyfriend Chris who, along with being a light-hearted character and a constant support to Starr, is a point of great controversy because he is white. This affects the other emotional standpoint of the novel, Starr’s dynamic with her two fathers. Her biological father, Maverick Carter, who despite being an ex-felon, has a powerful redemptive story and cares strongly about his family. Then there is Starrs’ other father, her Uncle Carlos who raised her while her father was incarcerated and is also a police officer living in a more peaceful place Riverton Hills. The contrast between the two men and the juxtaposition of their two philosophies shapes both Starr and the narrative in a thought-provoking and emotional manner, adding to the page-turner feel of the novel.

The book owes its title to an acronym for THUG LIFE coined by the famous rapper and activist Tupac. Pac himself is referenced multiple times in the novel, as well as his idea being echoed in the events of the narrative and by characters themselves.

“That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life”.

Thomas’ book was originally a short story written in 2009, which was driven on by the deaths of young black men such as Tamir Rice (12) and Trayvon Martin (17) and extended out into a complete book. With the novel, she is trying to achieve a range of objectives from shedding light upon the racial injustice in America to showing, through the medium of fiction, a story which is all too common in reality. The author is also an avid supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has often been represented negatively in the media when, in truth, the entire story isn’t being appreciated. To quote Starr, “this isn’t about the how Khalil died. It’s about how Khalil lived”; words so impactful they break the illusion of the story and come into their own as a personal message from Thomas, a woman who just wants the world to gain a greater understanding of an issue which is constantly misinterpreted.

Starr’s story is fundamentally one about speaking out about racism and not being afraid to be silenced by a society which wants to turn a blind eye to it. Thankfully, her message has been heard by many readers worldwide. If you want a unique perspective on a story you’ve heard many times, this is the book that will show you it and, with the film rights recently being obtained by 20th Century Fox, it is not likely to be the last we hear of Starr’s story.