The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a powerful young adult novel that centers on the death of Khalil, an African American teenager who is shot by police after a traffic stop. Starr Carter, a witness to the shooting, frames the story as she watches the chaos and controversy erupt from Khalil’s death. Starr is caught in the middle of a conflict: she must either speak out about what she saw, or let the rumors speak for themselves. It’s a book full of controversy, tension, community and heart that takes a long look at relevant issues and movements, including the Black Lives Matter movement.
Holly: This month we have four very interesting books to discuss! These stories have us questioning the role of the observer as well as the power of one’s voice. What does it mean to use your voice? What kind of impact does voice have on our lives and the lives of others? What happens when we remain silent observers?
We begin with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which chronicles the aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed African American boy, Khalil, who is stopped by a police officer for a broken taillight. Starr Carter, the protagonist, witnesses the shooting, and must decide whether she should speak or let the media and rumor mill speak for her. Starr lives in Garden Heights, the same neighborhood as Khalil, but attends Williamson Prep, an elite school in another neighborhood. She must learn to integrate the two sides of her life–the Garden Heights Starr with the Williamson Prep Starr. It is through the experience involving Khalil that Starr learns to use her own voice and to become her own person.
This is a timely and necessary book that I wish adolescents everywhere would read. The novel presents racism, privilege and spectacle in ways that allow readers to think about the issues that they may only hear about through the media. Starr’s dual consciousness and her struggle for voice are concepts that many adolescents would understand, and this book takes readers through the process of dealing with those issues. This is not a simple book; not only does it have life lessons for any reader, but it maintains a strong political stance that addresses the complex issues with the depth and kindness they deserve. I look forward to reading what Jean and Marilyn have to say about this book!
Jean: I find this book to be totally engaging and, at the same time, so intense that sometimes I need to put it down and walk away. But I always come back. This book is a window into a culture with which I have little experience. Starr finds herself juggling so many things, including finding herself. She sees herself as one persona at her school and another in her neighborhood. At first, she successfully keeps the two worlds separate, but as the novel develops, Starr can’t figure out how to blend them.
I find it interesting that the author has created a loving and supportive family life, because that makes it possible for readers with that kind of stability in their own lives to understand the other events in the book. I also love the portrait of the Garden Heights neighborhood as a community of good, hardworking people who are caught on a treadmill of threats, drugs and gangs.
The issues of power are pervasive and come from so many different angles in this novel. The ever-present threat of rival gangs in the neighborhood is one source, but the attitudes and judgments of the police also come into question, leaving me wondering who we should fear. Added to these are the parental voices that are often authoritarian. Starr’s relationships with her friends is another struggle as she realizes that some of them carry powerful influence. I found this quote significant:
Starr and her family visit with Kahlil’s grandmother after the shooting. “[Ms Rosalie] holds my hand and rubs her thumb along the top of it. ‘Mmm,’ she says. ‘Mmm!’ It’s like my hand is telling her a story and she’s responding. She listens to it for a while, then says, ‘I’m glad you came over. I’ve been wanting to talk to you,'”
The novel’s importance cannot be overstated; it aches to be told. It gives us a glimpse into the hearts of all those involved in the tragedy–the many “sides” of such a catastrophic event.
I agree with you, Holly, about the complexity of this book. Every time I think about an issue it raises, I find myself considering new perspectives. It is hard to “take sides” when there are so many angles to consider. You ask what I think about this book: I love it. I love that it taught me so much, and that it made me realize how much more I have to learn.
Marilyn: I have some different thoughts about this book. First, my experience purchasing the book was very interesting.
In March, I spoke at a conference in Southern California and then visited my son and family. We made a visit with my ten-year-old grandson to Once Upon A Time, “America’s Oldest Children’s Bookstore” in Montrose. I always get good suggestions there, and this time was no exception. The teenage salesperson told me The Hate U Give was the best book ever, and that she couldn’t put it down. So, I purchased it, and when I read it, I could see why she found it so compelling. I was also captivated by a story that came right out of current headlines. It was interesting to me that I learned about this book in a white suburb of Los Angeles. That, in itself, gave me hope about the power of stories to reach across divisions.
I agree with everything that you both pointed out about the book. And, I agree that it is a valuable and vitally important book. It is certainly a book that high school classes should read! I would include it as part of a text set in Senior Civics or Government classes.
I think that the balanced way that Thomas presents the views of Starr’s uncle, who is a policeman, and her white boyfriend shows the complexity of the situations that Starr has to face while searching for a place where she can speak. Guided discussion in the classroom would be a valuable process for teens while reading this book. That makes me wonder: how many teachers would have the courage to share this book in their classrooms?
With the current climate, I am sure that many parents would object to this novel in the classroom. Maybe it would be best for this book to become an underground book that kids share and read outside of class. But, then you lose that vital process of discussion. Maybe it will take off on social media (I actually learned about Tumblr from this book!). It would be great to see discussions about this book on some of the same social media sites that Thomas mentions. I remember a New York Times article that stated that there are many librarians and teachers ordering the book. That’s a hopeful sign!
One aside: being a 70-plus-year-old, I struggled to relate to the obsession with shoes in the book. I need a tutorial about teen shoes.
Finally, I am glad for the opportunity to read this book. Honest stories like this that speak to young people in such a powerful manner are vital tools for building understanding. Now, I am contemplating which of my young friends I want to introduce to the book. It would be interesting to have a discussion about it with one of them.
Holly: We seem to agree that this is an important book, and one that can spark a lot of conversation. Its relevance, its timeliness, and its dynamism–the way that Thomas depicts the characters with authenticity–make this an important book. This is undeniably a perfect book to use to discuss power with young people. Speaking of importance, relevance, and power, next week’s book also addresses these issues, but with a very different setting–all the way back in 1943. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is our next provocative book, and I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about it!
Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Date Published: February 28, 2017
This is the first installment of October 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.