If you’ve so much as glanced in the Young Adult section of a bookstore in the past month, you know this review was coming. Already with a movie in the works, a Horn Book’s Fiction and Poetry Award (among others), and millions sold, “The Hate U Give” has become a must-read in 2017, and for good reason. With each word in the 444-page novel, author Angie Thomas creates a richly relevant account of a teenager forced to navigate a complicated world of race relations, injustice, and activism in the United States.
Whether we want it to or not, there is no question that skin color plays a role in our world today, capable of creating perceptions, biases, and prejudices. For many, this can be an obstacle, a privilege, or merely an accepted part of life. For some, this can end their lives. Starr Carter, a 16-year old teenager from the poor black neighborhood of Garden Heights, witnesses this tragic reality when her childhood friend, Khalil, is wrongfully shot down in front of her by a police officer. Starr must now deal with the grief of losing a friend while facing a world asking the same question she is: why did Khalil have to die?
Although fiction, this story is a painfully familiar one in 2017, but Thomas meticulously builds it beyond a newspaper headline, allowing readers to truly engage with the people and experiences behind it. The novel explores Carter’s life in the aftermath of Khalil’s death, from testifying in trials to managing her Tumblr. Thomas balances this wide variety of scenes remarkably, using first-person perspective to naturally transition readers from family drama to school dynamics to citywide protest (sometimes within the same page). This also creates an exciting pace that keeps even the most adrenaline-junky reader from getting bored.
However, the speed of the story does not sacrifice the development of the characters. Starr, of course, gets her coming-of-age arch, but other characters like her boyfriend, Chris, or her friend, Maya, also get to deal with their personal struggles and moral problems. By the end, every one of the characters has changed in some way, and has made a memorable impact on the reader.
Thomas’s writing is unapologetically stylized, embracing the mannerisms of black and teenage speech. In a way that is reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston, she shows that these forms of language are beautiful, complex, and laced with history and community. Moreover, she encourages a consideration of speech patterns in general and how society treats people because of it.
“The Hate U Give” is a topical, compelling novel that uses fiction as a form of activism, giving a voice to a typically voiceless perspective and generating reflection on the real world rather than an escape from it. It’s perfect for any realistic fiction fan, but recommended for every reader as an informative and well-written insight into the modern issues of racial profiling, police violence, and more.
Remember to read the latest edition of The Passed Note here!