“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and bees. The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.”
The Hate U Give has been at the top of the New York Times Bestselling list for an impressive 51 weeks. Once you open the cover and read it, you immediately know why. This isn’t a novel relying on a plot full of catch phrases and timely references, THUG is a heartfelt, profound, and intricately deep look at one girls experience as a black teenager in America.
Starr Carter is torn between two worlds. The poor black neighborhood she lives and grew up in, and the mostly white prep school where she goes to school. Lives that she keeps mostly separate. The result of this separation is that Starr doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere.
“Funny how it works with white kids though. It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black.”
When her childhood best friend takes her home from a party one night, her world changes irrevocably. Pulled over and pulled out of the car, Khalid gets shot. By the officer. And Starr was right there.
The story that follows is one that should make most people uncomfortable. Yes, you read that right. You should be uncomfortable. There should be moments that you cringe. That you tear up. That you literally feel your heart break. For any child in this country to feel a tiny fraction of what Starr goes through is simply unacceptable. The heartbreaking reality is that this novel hits home way closer than it should. Because so many children feel exactly what she goes through, on some scale, every day.
When we watch the news, it’s easy to dismiss what we hear. In the specific instance of police shootings, to condemn the victim. To question how they lived, what they were doing, why this happened to them. Thomas examines all of those things through Starr. Seeing the news unfold. Watching the reports of Khalil’s history being brought into the discussion. How the perception of a person is enough to mark them guilty, or innocent.
“I hate that I let myself fall into that mind-set of trying to rationalize his death. And at the end of the day, you don’t kill someone for opening a car door. If you do, you shouldn’t be a cop.”
Somehow it’s become easy in this country to condemn people for the neighborhoods they live in, or the clothes that they wear, or the color of their skin. It becomes easy to justify small actions until they lead to big actions. And then it becomes easy to condemn those actions. And it’s impossible for ANY novel to fully encapsulate, explore, examine, and come to any meaningful conclusions on the topics of police violence, poverty, race, racism, white privilege, or any of the extremely important issues raised here.
Thomas doesn’t give us answers. She doesn’t wrap the conclusion up with a tidy bow. She doesn’t write easy answers, or give us superficial promise. Instead, she focuses entirely on Starr, and the journey she needs to go on.
While this is a story about all of those things, it is also a story about a girl finding her identity in a modern world. Should she confront a friend who says some borderline racist things under the guise of jokes? Should she break up with her white boyfriend because of the misunderstandings they’ll inevitably have, or the judgement others will inevitably heap on them? Should she fear white people because of how a select few behaved? Should she speak up and face backlash, or should she remain quiet and safe?
“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
Everyone should read this book. Everyone. It isn’t a book for only young adults. This is a book for everyone. This book is full of real issues that youth in our country face today. That they have to navigate, and figure out. Literature is about introducing an understanding. Helping readers develop empathy and examine alternate perspectives. Thomas gives us a stunning glimpse into an issue that needs this more than ever.
I want to say so much more, but this really isn’t the post or forum to get into the discussions of race and racism. But, given how much controversy this book has stirred up, I will say this. If you are stuck on some of the commentary or scenes regarding Chris, or white people in general, in my opinion, you’re missing the point. The point is to understand Starr. To see the world as she sees it. To step back and see the humanity that is often forgotten when events like a police shooting scream across the headlines.
“It would be easy to quit if it was just about me, Khalil, that night, and that cop. It’s about more than that though. It’s about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante.
It’s also about Oscar.
It’s even about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first — Emmett.”
Take away statistics and studies. Take away the opinions. Take away the excuses. The justifications. The reasons. Read this book and envision Starr as your child. Don’t overthink it. Just feel it. Feel. Look at the list of names and feel.
We often get lost in the nuance of news. Who was right. Who was wrong. Thomas strips away the line between the two and forces us to recognize the fundamental fact that behind every story there is a person. A family. She isn’t asking you to pick a side. To solve the problem. THUG simply presents an opportunity for conversation. One that I hope everyone participates in.
I obviously recommend this book to EVERYONE! If I could, I’d hand it out on the streets. Needless to say I’m looking forward to anything and everything that Angie Thomas writes in the future!