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I feel like I’ve been anticipating The Hate U Give‘s release for SO LONG, friends. I don’t remember how exactly I first heard of it, but y’all know I live almost exclusively in the world of YA fiction, so this has obviously been on my list from the moment I heard about it. In short, this book is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, following 16 year old Starr and the aftermath of her being a witness to her friend being murdered by a white police officer. It’s obviously poignant, and it’s incredibly well done. I wanted to start writing a review the second I finished the book, but I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to process all of my feelings in order to write something that does the book justice. Here’s hoping!
It’s no secret that I am extremely passionate about civil rights and activism, but because I’m white, there are so many things I feel like I do not have the authority to speak on, especially related to injustices for people of color. I’ve had so many privileges in my life that have sheltered me from the realities of the communities that Angie Thomas depicts in her novel. So I knew that it was important for me to read this book in order to explore important perspectives and learn more about those who don’t have the same privileges I do. I won’t say this book gave me a better understanding of the issues surrounding race and police brutality, simply because I don’t believe I can ever truly understand something I’ve never experienced. But I want to do what I can to amplify the voices who are being affected in order to get these stories heard and hopefully create more space for change.
Quite honestly, this book could be the basis of an entire dissertation. So instead of getting into super gritty details (which I would love to do, but unfortunately, ya girl doesn’t have the time), I’ve decided to focus on one of the most moving moments in the book for me. When I read something moving, I’m often inclined to pick up a pen, underline, and let the author’s words truly sink in. In this particular case, the moment hit me like a ton of bricks.
One of the main conflicts in this novel is Starr’s uncertainty about speaking out and uncovering herself as the main witness to her friend Khalil’s murder. She goes back and forth about what her responsibilities are not only as a witness, but as a member of the black community – more specifically, in a community most commonly know for drug dealers and gangs – and as a friend of someone who was killed. It’s obviously not an easy decision for a 16 year old to make, especially considering the intricate details of her life. For example, Starr’s parents send her to a predominantly white private school, causing Starr to deliver some serious Jerrica Benton/Jem realness with two different personalities. Starr keeps up appearances at school that are different than who she is at home because, just like any other teenager, she wants to have friends and a boyfriend and make it through high school with as few hiccups as possible. So on top of all of these intricacies of her double life, Starr is then confronted with a difficult decision: does she hide herself from the details of Khalil’s case in order to try continuing to live a semi-normal life that is safe, or does she have an obligation to speak out? That’s what leads to the conversation that I feel is the very root of the novel…which happens to be the title itself. PS. I’m ANGRY as I sit here writing this because the book’s title is so perfect and amazing and I am so horrible at titles. This is a formal invitation for Angie Thomas to title my novel. I’ll send you my manuscript. Please and thank you!)
The novel’s title, The Hate U Give, is discussed very early on in the story. According to Tupac, THUG LIFE stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” Starr spends a lot of the novel dissecting this complex statement, eventually discussing it with her dad to uncover how it applies to not only her current situation, but the world she has grown up in.
(Side note: this conversation happens directly after her dad shares his theories about Harry Potter and how all the Hogwarts houses are gangs, as well as the Death Eaters. It’s compelling.)
Starr eventually comes to the conclusion that it’s not only “infants” that are being fed the hate of racism, but it’s all of society. The system of racism is so deeply ingrained in our society that most white people can’t even recognize it anymore. The violent and devastating actions, the everyday microaggressions, the lives being lost – white people don’t want to admit it’s because there is systematic racism polluting our society at all times. And until we start talking about it, bringing attention to it, and condemning it, it won’t change. And that’s exactly what this book does. Along with Starr, the reader learns how powerful your voice can be in a time of crisis, no matter how often we get shut down. It’s hard work, but it’s necessary work.
“The system is still giving hate, and everybody’s still getting fucked.”
“That’s why people are speaking out, huh? Because it won’t change if we don’t say something.”
“Exactly, we can’t be silent.”
The rest of the book is for you to explore. But I know for me, the power of one’s voice has never felt more important.