“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.”
This book should be required reading. Not for schools, for everyone. The premise is simple but powerful, the characters are every day people but they are excellently written. The message is one we’ve heard a million times before but we still haven’t heard it enough.
The story follows sixteen-year-old Starr, a private-school student who has always felt out of place. At school, she is one of the few black students. Back in her neighbourhood, she is mocked for going to school outside the area – with white people nonetheless. Although she feels like she lives in two different worlds, she’s determined to prove to herself that both of her lives can co-exist.
One night, Starr gets a lift home from her childhood friend Khalil. They get pulled over by a policeman. The whole encounter is over in barely a minute, and it ends with Khalil shot dead on the side of the road.
What follows is an incredibly well-written story of family, community, race and coming-of-age. It’s raw, powerful and true. And in between the lines, it’s soft, wholesome and meaningful. It’s the kind of story that you don’t want to put down; it sucks you in so easily, and makes you care about each and every character. It was well and truly excellent.
“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being back, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest vice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”
I feel like The Hate U Give is like a flagship novel for the YA genre. Angie Thomas gives us characters we can love, who feel real and that we care about. It talks about important and relevant topics but not harshly; it’s done with emotions, with tears. It’s done slowly, making you fall for Starr and her family, presenting the themes with a side of love and compassion. It explores racism in a way we can all understand, or we all should understand, whether we are old or young, black or white. The police brutality against innocent black people and the horrors and injustice that ensues, but also casual day-to-day racism, the kind that so many people just don’t understand is harmful. It’s not only the big things we need to talk about, we need to be showing our kids about every facet and form of racism, and why our perspectives can differ due to our experiences in our own skin, whatever colour it is.
I say again, The Hate U Give is one of the most important novels in the YA genre. It’s a story that I and so many people need to hear and remember. And that’s the best part of YA for me: the messages and lessons we impart to our younger readers. And #BlackLivesMatter is one such lesson – an essential one.
“Are you serious right now?” Hailey asks. “What’s wrong with saying his life matters too?”
“His life always matters more!” My voice is gruff, and my throat is tight. “That’s the problem!”
Read it for the very lovable and very real characters. Read it for the heart-wrenching social commentary. Read it no matter who you are, even if it doesn’t look like your usual cup of tea. This truly is a book for each and every one of us.
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