The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
|The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas|
|Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam|
|Summary: An outstanding debut from Angie Thomas that does everything right. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better YA contemporary this year - this one really does deserve all the hype.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: April 2017|
|Publisher: Walker Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Garden Heights is a neighbourhood notorious for all the wrong reasons: poverty, drugs, shootings, it ticks all the ghetto stereotypes. It's also the place that sixteen-year-old Starr Carter calls home. Even if most people there only know her as 'Big Mav's daughter who works in the store', Garden Heights is where she was born and raised. It's where she can be herself and not care about what people think or how people expect her to act - a freedom that isn't afforded to her at the posh suburban high school where she is one of just a handful of black students. However, Garden Heights is also where her childhood friend was shot in a drive by. And now, it's the place where Starr witnesses the devastating, fatal shooting of her unarmed friend, Khalil. At the hands of a police officer. It's an event whose repercussions will irrevocably change her life, and the lives of everyone around her.
It's been a while since a standalone YA book, especially by a debut author, has generated as much anticipation as The Hate U Give. Released in the US to rave reviews, the reactions to it were so powerful that waves were felt from across the pond months before the UK release. Such high expectations can occasionally be a double-edged sword, fostering unfairly high expectations. However, none of this matters because The Hate U Give is one of those rare cases where all the hype is absolutely justified. It’s a superlative debut that blows all expectations out of the water.
Black Lives Matter. Most will recognise the hashtag. Many will know something about the movement it represents, the events that hastened its escalation. But a much smaller proportion of people know what it's really like to be on the receiving end of systemic racism and its various social manifestations. The Hate U Give gives a searing insight into the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement, telling a story that is simultaneously intimate and broad in scale, through the eyes and lives of those people right in the centre of it all. Tearing apart preconceptions and stereotypes, it explores numerous complex and emotive topics such as racism, police brutality, gang violence and PTSD; all done in a considered manner, with a deep compassion and understanding that all readers, regardless of background, will intrinsically appreciate and understand. All the while, the story itself is outstanding in its own right. The excellent plot had me completely hooked from the first page, while the dialogue is consistently superb and littered with many wonderful moments of laugh-out-loud humour that are expertly juxtaposed against the darker moments.
At the forefront of the narrative is our brilliant protagonist, Starr. With her sharp wit, sassiness and intelligence, Starr's voice had me hooked immediately, and her emotional journey and development as a character throughout the book made me fall completely in love with her. Starr is uniquely placed, not just due to how viscerally involved she was in the shooting, but because of her connection to the world outside of Garden Heights, which gives her the additional perspective of seeing how those from the outside interpret and react to the media portrayal of the incident. The horrific trauma of seeing her friend being shot in front of her is just the beginning of an incredibly tough journey. Starr finds herself at battle on all fronts: against the bias in a justice system that seems destined to fail her friend; against the insidious racism at her school, which comes to light horribly in the reactions of some fellow students to Khalil's death; against the riots and escalating gang violence in Garden Heights that often only propel a vicious cycle that feeds the racism, stereotyping and inequality that triggered the people's anger and disillusionment in the first place.
Fortunately, she isn't alone in her fight, supported on all sides by a diverse cast of family and friends. I was a huge fan of Starr's complicated extended family, filled with nuanced, interesting relationships, each bringing unique perspectives to the story. Momma is her strong, unyielding emotional rock, though scary as hell if you get on her wrong side. Daddy is a former gangster well-versed in violence, who managed to turn his life around after a spell in prison, while her uncle Carlos is a cop and a colleague of the officer who killed Khalil, bringing two different perspectives on how to react to the incident, despite them sharing the singular desire to keep Starr and the rest of their family safe. Then there's her friend Kenya and her half-brother Seven, both children of a gang boss who has it out for Starr. Through these diverse characters, the distinct vernacular of the narrative and dialogue, and the rich array of cultural references, Thomas provides a vivid and immersive portrayal of African-American culture. I also have to give a shout out to Starr's boyfriend Chris. A rich white boy with a privileged upbringing, on the outside he appears to be pretty much everything Starr isn't. Yet, he defies expectations with his gentle determination to understand and appreciate Starr's world. He just goes to prove the point that every character in the book will surprise you with hidden depths and facets. Not a single one fits rigidly to a single stereotype or preconceived character model, constantly making you reassess and develop your opinions and understanding of them.
Thomas' writing is incredibly engaging and disarmingly eloquent, with a veritable array of quotable lines. Her prose cuts right to the core of these big issues, allowing her to deftly get across powerful social and political messages. The book depicts acts of aggression and violence, of ignorance and hate. Yet, the points it makes are always balanced and considered, without ever feeling preachy or aggressive. Despite everything, there is still that delicate sense of hope that even as everything seems to go wrong, so long as they keep doing right, change will happen. It's a story about finding your voice and the ability of words to bring about change, and the book itself is a powerful example of this very message.
The Hate You Give is definitely one of the most important books you'll read this year, one of those rare stories that leaves you feeling like your eyes have irrevocably been opened a little wider. It's all the more impressive for being as supremely entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Highest of recommendations and a smashing five stars from me!
Many thanks to the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is another powerful YA contemporary, set in 1959 during the midst of the civil rights battle, where race is just one of a whole host of thought-provoking issues that are explored. Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian also expertly captures the challenges of living your life split between two sharply contrasting cultures. Finally, Bruised by Sarah Skilton is another stunning portrayal of PTSD, featuring a compelling cast of characters that is well worth checking out!
You can read more book reviews or buy The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas at Amazon.com.
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