This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us, feels like us, and is experiencing this pain with us… – Angie Thomas.
Reading this book would have been an emotional rollercoaster regardless of the time I read it but reading it in the height of the recent Black Lives Matter movement was incredible. It was as if I wasn’t reading a piece of fiction, but that I was witnessing a true account that was happening right before my very eyes, so much so that at the top of page thirty in the edition I have, the very first line reads:
I stopped reading, momentarily stunned. Here are the very words that we have continuously heard whether on the original video of George Floyd’s murder or chanting in the streets across the world. Reading them in a book that was published in 2017 reinforces the fact that this fight is a continuous fight of racism that many people are only just waking up to (in regards to the sheer magnitude, myself included, I am ashamed to say).
The Hate U Give is the story of Starr who lives in two worlds which are vastly different: the poor neighbourhood of Garden Heights where a Black community live in contrast to the posh high school in the rich suburbs where predominantly white people attend. It is a story of finding her voice and using it to speak out against police brutality against Black people and it is also a story of self-discovery. Starr is like two people: the person she is at home with her family and friends in Garden Heights and the person she is at school with her white boyfriend and white best friend. She finds it difficult to balance the two and keeps her two lives apart. Once she witnesses a fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend, Khalil, the balance begins to tip, and she has to decide who she truly is.
Reading from Starr’s point of view is so eye opening to the realities that Black people face, from micro-aggressions with “best friends” flipping their lid because they don’t like being told what they say is racist to full-blown racist assumptions that ultimately get people killed. The later scenes of protests and riots further illustrate that Black people want and need to be heard which is reflective of what is still ongoing today. Just because the news has moved on from the Black Lives Matter movement does not mean that the protests have stopped. There are still protests every day in the US and there have been one’s as recent as last weekend in the UK. Again, this is why reading this book in June amplified this movement because all of the tensions and the emotions and the hurt and the fear that Black people face daily is written right there on the page and you can feel it all as you read from Starr’s point of view.
The Hate U Give is a book with heavy themes such as police brutality, racism, death, murder and gang violence, but the story is filled with so much love and joy too: the protection of parents, the love of family, the allyship of friends and the hilarity of grandmothers. It has an entire cast of incredible characters that range from teenagers to parents to community members who aren’t a central part of the story, but are just as memorable with their wits and their unique personalities. Personally, Lisa – Starr’s mum – is my favourite character. She is hilarious. She puts her kids in their place as well as her husband, Starr’s dad, Maverick. She makes jokes about life and her own mother and her family, but when her family is in danger – facing the police who have already written their version of events and gun shots in the neighbourhood – you don’t want to mess with her. She is hardworking, brilliant and unforgettable.
This is a book that should be taught in schools. If it were, perhaps humanity would open their eyes a little bit more to the ongoing prejudices and outright acts of racism that occur every single day. It certainly opened my eyes to my own internalised prejudices and my own internalised stereotypes of Black communities. White people especially have extreme privilege and we need to accept that and unlearn a lot of things that we have been taught throughout life and throughout history. It is a hard, important lesson that will take years and years of practice. Starting with stories like The Hate U Give is just the beginning with learning the important lessons of how a single act of prejudice can lead to the murder of an innocent young man – a teenager – and have a ripple effect on his entire family, friends and community. The Hate U Give is vital because it not only illustrates the dangers of having Black skin colour, it also portrays the everyday life of Black families: their love, their sadness, their laughter and their mini rivalries over their favourite sports. This is a book full of life – all aspects of it.
I couldn’t recommend this book enough if I tried and I urge you to put it on your reading list, no matter what age you are. Have you read The Hate U Give? What are your thoughts?
Love, Faye xo