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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.
I found this End of Year Book Survey from Jamie of Perpetual Page Turner and thought it was the perfect way to round up my 50 book challenge from this year! LET’S DO IT.
Check out my year in books on Goodreads!
Number of books you read: 52
Number of re-reads: 1
Genre you read the most from: YA (obvs)
1. Best book you read?
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I had been hearing a lot about this book, both from friends and online, and I was intrigued enough to give it a go despite the fact I don’t love the fantasy genre. While there were elements of this book I enjoyed, like Blue’s character and the backstories of the boys she becomes friends with, I tend to get lost in the details of fantasy stories. There is a lot of history to remember throughout the plot, and often times there are elements of mystery, which is difficult for me to process.
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Seeing as this novel was on a number of feminist book lists, it had been on my radar for a while. It seemed like a decent plot – a girl who acts on her own agency to change the unfortunate lot she’d been handed in life – but I quickly realized that was a very loose summary. The failed construction of the main character is definitely intentional, but I was surprised by quickly the message of the book got lost in the plot.
4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read?
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Not only did this book inspire me to pay more attention to the world around me and continue learning, but I wanted nothing more than to share this education with others. Anytime I find someone who is interested in identity politics, intersectionality, and other topics Gender Studies nerds love to geek out about, I tossed this book in their direction. Thankfully, I found that it was met with eager and open arms.
5. Best series you started?
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
I’m not a big of series because I have a problem with commitment, but to my benefit, I didn’t know this novel was set as the first in a series. But when I read the summary about a girl in high school who identifies as bisexual and gets an internship with her favorite superhero…how could I not read it?
6. Favorite new author you discovered?
One Man Guy has been on my list for a while and I’m so happy I finally picked it up. Barakiva perfectly executes the Armenian culture, the vulnerability of first relationships, and duh, it’s LGBTQ. Can’t wait to read more from him 🙂
7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
This was one of the first books I read that got me interested in essay compilations. I liked the freedom of bouncing from one story to the next and learning about the author in the process.
8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
I think I tore through this book in 2 days.
9. Book you read that you are most likely to re-read next year?
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
10. Favorite cover of a book you read?
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
I’m going to be real with you – I always judge books by their covers. Listen, I read a lot on the subway, and I don’t want people looking at an ugly book and thinking I have poor taste. So when I first started seeing buzz for Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, I was in love. It’s so beautiful. It might be my favorite book cover of all time.
11. Most memorable character?
Sebby (Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa)
Sebby! My beautifully sad and troubled baby! I was instantly drawn to Mira and Sebby’s relationship, and once I hit that first chapter from Sebby’s perspective, I was blown away. I wanted to know everything about him. I still do. Please, Kate Scelsa, can I have a book all about Sebby???
12. Most beautifully written book read?
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Let’s just say, if you think the covers of Nicola Yoon’s books are beautiful, wait until you read what’s inside. She is pure YA magic. I can’t tell you the amount of wrong trains I got on because I was too engrossed in the beauty of this book. Holy crap.
13. Most thought-provoking/ life-changing book?
Buffering by Hannah Hart
Phew. Okay. This book was way more intense than I had expected. There were hints of Hannah’s difficult past in her videos and other content, but this book dives way deeper. Hannah is so brave in her storytelling and my heart ached for her as I read it, but I finished the book feeling more motivated than ever. I don’t know Hannah personally, but the energy and positivity she puts out into the world is so inspiring, and even more so knowing what she went through to get there.
14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
I actually can believe I waited until 2016 to read this book…because…remember what I said about judging books by their covers? That’s the main reason I held back from reading this book. But I finally got over it and bought a copy, and because it was so great, it made me loosen up just a little bit on prioritizing a book’s presentation.
15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read?
“I made the choice to never again be quiet, to never again suck it up. I challenged him. And I will do it again. If that makes me uppity, so be it. At least people know I’m no longer a vessel that they can use to act out their racist feelings. They will know that I think I’m worth fighting for. They will know I have a fire burning inside me. They will know that I’m alive.” – Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair
16.Shortest book you read? Longest book you read?
Shortest – Dear Diego by Elena Poniatowska
Longest – Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
17. Book that shocked you the most
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
This is my millionth Nicole Yoon reference and I don’t even care. There’s a major plot twist in this book and I think my jaw is still hanging on the floor somewhere…
18. OTP of the year
Nate/ET the Musical (Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle)
19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year
Kate and Mark (You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan)
What I love most about this book is the fact that the two main characters never fall in love. Kate is a lesbian and Mark is gay and they become best friends and each help the other with their respective crushes. Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever heard?
20. Favorite book you read from an author you’ve read previously
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
Yall, I’m tellin ya, these two authors are perfect angels. Because of their abilities to do so in the past, I knew these two special cupcakes would give me the LGBTQ storyline I love the most – one that isn’t about coming out or the hardships of not being accepted. SWOON.
21. Best book you read that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure:
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read?
Sarah (Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom)
The main character’s best friend in this story is so sweet and caring. But she also calls people out on their bullshit. Definitely my kinda gal.
23. Best 2016 debut you read?
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
I LOVE HER A LOT, OKAY?
24. Best world-building/most vivid setting you read this year?
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
You wouldn’t think a book on a deserted island would have much to explore in terms of world-building and vivid scenes, but that’s the magic of Libba Bray.
25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
26. Book that made you cry?
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Well, I cry with almost every book I read. But this one stands out to me specifically because I remember having 5 pages left while I was riding home on the train and I needed to sit in the subway station and finish reading and finish crying before I could go home.
27. Hidden gem of the year?
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
This was my 49th book of the year and I was so focused on finishing my challenge that I simply picked it because it seemed quick and easy to read. Little did I know the heartbreaking story that was about to unfold. I don’t even remember how I was introduced to this book, but I’m so glad I picked it up.
28. Book that crushed your soul?
It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt
While this debut was incredibly written, I remember closing this book and feeling angry and confused about why I’m still reading so many sad coming out stories. I know they are very real, but that’s what made this book so difficult to get through. I often look toward books for an escape, and considering I see/hear about this story enough in real life, Mike and Sean’s story was very difficult to get through for me.
29. Most unique book you read?
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
I love books about fandom life, and this is the first I’ve ever read that gives such a real look into how online friendships and relationships get built. These authors took the familiar format of online fandom communication and executed an incredibly genuine and provoking novel that I read in about 24 hours. As I already noted, I will definitely be re-reading it ASAP.
30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Mostly this book makes me mad because it is so brilliant and I’m angry I didn’t write it.
1. New favorite book blog you discovered?
2. Favorite review that you wrote?
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?
My NaNoWriMo experience
4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
Seeing Phoebe Robinson and Ilana Glazer at Housing Works the day You Can’t Touch My Hair was released
5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life?
When Libba Bray responded to my blog post:
6. Most popular post this year on your blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
Brand New Eyes
7. Post you wished got a little more love?
Rory’s Boyfriends (Are All Dumb) because let’s face it THEY ARE!!
8. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
Bluestockings bookstore 🙂
9. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
I completed my goal of reading at least 50 books this year!
1. One book you didn’t get to read in 2016 but will be your number 1 priority in 2017?
I’m equally excited to read Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
2. Book you are most anticipating for 2017 (non-debut)?
Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me!!!!!!!
3. 2017 debut you are most anticipating?
Meg & Linus by Hannah Nowinski because fandom, drama club, and two nerdy queer high schoolers. Obviously.
4. Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2017?
I’m really looking forward to continuing with Jess and Abby’s story in Not Your Sidekick #2
5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2017?
Work toward another 50 books and possibly get a blog post published on a website.
The summer before I started college, I started writing a silly little story, simply motivated by the need for more diversity in the books I loved to read. I’ve lived with this story for more than 4 years now. I wrote on trains, in the middle of the night, in class. I wrote when I was sad and I wanted to live in another world. The story changed while I did, but through it all, it was something I could rely on. Every time I read a new book, I felt empowered to work toward my goal. “I can do that,” I would always think. And now, after the most difficult journey of my life, I did. I did it. I wrote a book.
I have always loved to read and write, but when it came to high school English class, I always had trouble staying engaged. Part of me knew that it was the institution of grading; I never wanted to be graded for the way I read a book, I just wanted to enjoy it. The constant essays, analyses, and exams that were required often hindered my reading process. I was always so concerned with figuring out the answers the teachers were looking for rather than my own interpretation of the text. I also couldn’t help but notice that so many of the books on the required reading list were extremely lacking in diversity. How many books about privileged, straight, white, cisgender boys did I have to tolerate before I could get my diploma? It was unnerving. One example that always comes to mind is Lord of the Flies. I don’t think I’ve really met anyone who enjoyed this book when we read it in high school. All I took away from it was the theme of teenage boys causing chaos and forced to come to terms with how privileged they are. Personally, I think we see enough of this plot in everyday life.
One day, when I was scrolling through Tumblr, I saw that someone had posted about a feminist, intersectional, and female driven alternative to Lord of the Flies. I have heard of Libba Bray’s novel Beauty Queens before, whether it was in YouTube videos about suggested YA books, from friends and peers, or seeing the book in stores, always picking it up and putting it back down for some reason. I’m not sure if it was the cover of the book that initially turned me off – which is definitely a possibility, considering my weird aversion to books with photographed models on the cover – but when I saw this post and the nuanced expansion on the characterization and plot, I decided it was finally time to give it a whirl. And DANG, am I glad I did.
This novel has a very simple premise: much like Lord of the Flies, a plane crashes on an island and the teenage passengers are forced with the task of creating their own method of survival. But as the title suggests, these aren’t typical teenagers, but contestants for the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant. With the typical image of teenage beauty pageant contestants being rich and vapid white girls competing for the ultimate status of beauty and adoration, Bray sets up a completely misguided expectation for the reader. While there are definitely some aspects of these girls’ personalities that fit into the beauty queen stereotype, such as being obsessed with makeup and glamour, the group of girls depicted in this novel is diverse, smart, intersectional, and feminist as shit. From the devoted contestant who wants to use her first place winnings for a spot in medical school, to the former member of a beloved boy band who is transitioning and working to prove that there is no single way to define womanhood, Bray gives the reader a number of perspectives that these women use to tackle their situation and overcome expectations from the pageant’s sponsor, The Corporation.
Within this group of about twelve remaining constants who survive the plane crash, there are representations for the LGBTQ+ community, the deaf community, women of color, class differences, and so many more. And unlike some media that offer these platforms of representation, Bray’s novel achieves these storylines without it feeling like a forced attempt to include “other” perspectives for the sake of being diverse. Ideas of the patriarchy are constantly being challenged in this story, as the women use their situation as a way to prove they can make an effectively functioning civilization for themselves without the presence of any men. The girls discover that all of their own personal experiences have garnered different types of skills that attribute to their survival in unique and important ways. They even discuss how they hope to make the ideas they have while on the island a reality when they return home, such as starting GirlCon (which I totally wish was a thing), establishing their own pharmaceutical company, and exposing the corrupt institution that is The Corporation.
And if the intricate use of characterization and gripping, suspenseful plotline doesn’t pull you in from the beginning – which would really surprise me – you will at least be sure to laugh out loud while reading this novel. Bray brilliantly uses the expected speech and jargon of these beauty pageant contestants to make the dialogue believable, as well as the perfect amount of ridiculous. The line “Oh my gosh, Miss Delaware just died,” while Miss Texas rattles on about Jesus being her co-pilot still gets me every time.
This novel really has it all, which is to say it has so much more than Lord of the Flies. If I had read this book in high school, I may have actually put more effort into taking notes, fulfilling essay prompts, and participating in class discussions. I mean, which would you prefer: talking about how that one kid named himself king of the fuckboys with a pig’s head (or something like that, I clearly repressed all memories of this book), or having a chat about a bunch of girls who had a world’s worth of different experiences that attributed to them being able to survive on a deserted island… and one with half an airplane tray lodged in her forehead? I’m telling you, this book is incredible.