This book captivated me in a way YA has failed to do for quite some time. In a genre saturated with cliché romances, vampires, or terminally ill teens, this book was refreshingly realistic and substantive.
The Hate U Give tells the story of Star, a black teenage girl who watches one of her lifelong friends, Kahlil, get shot and killed by a police officer after being pulled over for a traffic violation. This is the second close friend whose death Star has witnessed, with the first occurring at the premature age of eleven. After this first traumatic and scary murder, Star’s parents transfer Star and her two brothers to an expensive, mostly white private school 45 minutes away. Star thus begins a split life, with her white, wealthy school friends (and boyfriend) on one side and her black, gang-ridden community and family on the other. Kahlil’s death draws national attention though, and as the only witness, Star’s two worlds collide when she is forced to testify in the murder trial held for the offending police officer.
Timing is often key when releasing a book, and this one hits the nail on the head. The biggest selling factor is that it doesn't vilify or glorify either white or black communities. Granted, I can only genuinely look at the story through my Caucasian eyes, but Angie Thomas does an excellent job of accurately portraying both perspectives from the framework of realistic, flawed characters. Star’s boyfriend Chris may be a little too ideal, as might Star’s father, but on the whole the book is believable and engrossing.
The depth of this novel is never more obvious than in a conversation Star has with her father, from which the title of the book derives:
“Lack of opportunities. Corporate America don’t bring jobs to our communities and they damn sure ain’t quick to hire us. And then… even if you do have a high school diploma, so many of the schools in our neighborhoods don’t prepare us well enough…. Our schools don’t get us the resources to equip you like Williamson does. It’s easier to find some crack than it is to find a good school around here. Now think ‘bout this… how did the drugs even get in our neighborhood? This is a multi-billion dollar industry we talkin’ ‘bout baby. That shit is flown into our communities, but I don’t know anyone with a private jet, do you? … Drugs come from somewhere and they’re destroying our community... The Brenda’s can’t get jobs unless they’re clean and they can’t pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Kahlil’s get arrested for selling drugs, and they either spend most of their life in prison, another multi-billion dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby. A system designed against us. That’s thug life.”
Thus “thug” becomes an acronym for “The Hate U Give.” While this is not the historic origin of the term thug (which comes from an Asian Indian cult called the Thuggee), it is an interesting twist on the now commonly used slang.
If you enjoy this book, you might also like the Coretta Scott King honor book, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Both of these young adult books share themes of racism, police brutality, and grappling with loyalties when faced with difficult decisions.