As a young black millennial, I have been making efforts to consciously read more books based on the black experience. I read a lot of books, but most of the time I’m reading about people and places I can’t wholly connect with. I have only read a handful of books in my lifetime that I could relate to. I have been searching for more opportunities to read black authors and books that contain black characters.
I have been a little out of the loop in terms of new releases and I stumbled upon an advanced reader’s copy of Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give by chance. A co-worker told me she found an ARC I would like that was based on the Black Lives Matter Movement. I was intrigued. I took it home and attempted to read it. At first, I couldn’t get into it. Not because the writing was bad, or the subject didn’t peak my interest, though. I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to read a lot of the same types of books for a while. It just so happened that at the time I tried to read this–back in Jan/Feb–I was waist deep into a pile of thrillers. I couldn’t focus. Eventually, I got off the thrill ride and was able to pick up The Hate U Give.
Starr Carter is a sixteen- year -old girl who finds herself navigating between the world’s the Hood she lives in and the suburban Prep School she attends. Starr’s world comes crashing down when her childhood friend, Khalil, is shot and killed by a police officer. Starr is the only witness and everyone wants answers as to why an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by the police. Khalil’s case makes national headlines and the black community is furious. They want justice. Starr finds herself blurring the lines between who she is at her school and who she is at home. Is she betraying black men by having a white boyfriend? Is she betraying her Hood by wanting to get out?
I can only describe the experience I had reading this book through the perspective of a young black woman. I found that I had to read this slowly and deliberately. I had to put it down several times. Either I was too enraged, to hype (slapping my knee and hollering in agreement), or just grieving for not only the characters, but the black community as a whole.
In my opinion, this book gives a daringly accurate account of the black experience. Although I didn’t grow up in the Hood personally, I experienced many of the things Starr, her family, and her friends experienced.
“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.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is non -confrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto. I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.”
Starr is remarkably intelligent and insightful. She is aware of the power of presentation when it comes to “fitting in” and not wanting to be stereotyped. I still struggle with maintaining both sides of myself. As a kid, I was taught how to speak so that white people could feel comfortable–but it’s never been comfortable for me, just like it isn’t comfortable for Starr.
Starr’s family is one example of what a family looks like growing up in a poor community. I enjoyed the fact that Angie Thomas incorporated gangs, alcoholism, and blended families into the story. It made it that much richer in substance. These are issues that aren’t necessarily exclusive to the black community BUT for the purpose of this story, it worked. I loved the dynamic between Starr and her parents. Her father, Maverick, is an ex-con/former gangbanger and has educated himself and his kids about how to deal with the police. I can recall having the same talk with my Grandfather as a kid.
As for Starr’s relationships with the kids at Williamson Prep–it’s what I would expect from a teenager. It’s difficult as it is, trying to navigate friendships in high school. But when you had the media and the pressure of social injustice–something is bound to happen. I, for one, was ecstatic when Starr molly-whopped Hailey. She deserved it.
“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
This book is a must read. For educational or motivational purposes, you choose. But you must read it. I mean REALLY read it. Marinate with it and let it sit. Let it be uncomfortable. Let it scare you. Allow this book to make you angry, let it make you cry. If the only thing you take from this book is that having a voice and an understanding of how to use it appropriately, then Angie Thomas has done her job. It’s up to US to make the changes happen.
The question you are asking yourself shouldn’t be “Am I racist?” It should be: “what am I doing to stop the spread of hate?” In ALL forms.
Thank you, Angie Thomas, for writing OUR story. I REALLY hope the message isn’t lost when this is made into a movie. Five Stars!