“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas tells a story of a 16-year-old black girl, Starr, who witnesses her friend being killed by a police officer after returning home from a party. As the riots spark across the community, Starr finds her voice and decides to be vocal about the racial injustice. In just two hundred pages, the book masterfully explores the complexities of race, racism, and finding one’s place in an unfair world, all seen through a teenager’s lens.
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In my opinion, the book is accessible to a broad audience because of the language it employs. As a young reader, I instantly recognized the atmosphere the author tried to convey through the use of slang and colloquiums. The opening description of the party and the later description of Starr’s high school dynamics remind me of my own experiences. Similarly, many young readers would immediately recognize today’s slang words, such as “slayed” or “as hell,” and feel more connected to the book’s themes. This feeling that the author is speaking “our language” is likely to appeal to many young readers, who feel misunderstood by the adult authors or disconnected from the traditional English classics. While potentially unfamiliar with some of the current slang, the older readers will likely also understand the atmosphere Thomas tries to convey. They might recognize their youth on the pages or relate to it through the experiences of their children. Regardless of the age demographic, the simplicity of the language and easy-to-follow sentence structure will make it an enjoyable experience.
I believe the book is accessible to a wide range of ages, gender, ethnicities, and abilities. Generally, youth-adult fiction describes a white youth’s experience, and not many books focus on the coming-of-age experience of black people, especially women (Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) School of Education). Thomas simultaneously achieves two goals: she educates people of other ethnicities on the complexities of black lives and offers support to her community through representation. The book is not only an exciting read; it is both educational and inspirational. As a white person, my parents never had to teach me how to behave around police, nor am I familiar with code-switching. Reading the book from the perspective of a child who has to navigate the complexities of the racist and cruel world was striking. It made me angry and inspired me to be more mindful of my behaviors and attitudes. Therefore, I believe that the white youth would benefit from this read, as many of the experiences are unfamiliar to us. It will introduce them to the intricacies of being a black person in a predominantly white society and teach them how to behave with compassion and empathy.
BBC one book program chooses work that can transcend the classroom setting and create an open dialogue. Thomas’ book is a perfect choice, as it explores the themes that hold much value to our diverse student body. The audience’s journey through the book mimics Starr’s; at first, she feels powerless and lost in the face of global injustice, but eventually realizes that she has a voice when it comes to the fight against structural racism. Standing up to systematic injustice often does make one feel like a child trying to fight a group of all-powerful adults single-handedly. Unfortunately for us, the choice of a young protagonist is hardly a metaphor, and the plot is far from fiction. Despite being written in 2017, the relevance of the themes in the 2020 climate is heartbreaking. The murder of George Floyd and the global protests against police brutality amplify the urgency of the book’s themes (Dreyer et al.). It reminds us that the continued racism and police brutality against the black community are not incidental; it is institutional.
Additionally, the novel explores the complexity of one’s identity, trauma, and growing up. While these concepts form part of any coming-of-age story, this process possess additional complexities for the black teenagers (Owen 237). Starr struggles to reconcile the two sides of her identity, the Garden Heights “ghetto” and the private school girl, feeling the need to code-switch. What makes it challenging for the protagonist is that she cannot deal with her trauma on a strictly personal level. Witnessing the murder of her childhood friend is not just a personal trauma; its political and historical contexts weigh heavily on Starr. These contexts will directly shape her as a person and inform all of her decisions hereafter. As a result, this book can be studied not only in English classes, but equally in human services, sociology, and political sciences to give students a more nuanced perspective on the structural racism in America.
In the continuing fight of the Black Lives Matter movement, white people more than anyone need to read “The Hate U Give.” By having her target audience be predominantly young adults, Thomas emphasizes the idea presented early-on in her book: “The Hate U Give to Infants Fucks Everybody” (Thomas 12). Khali explains to Starr that when society neglects and abuses the youth, it raises adults that will want to enact violence in return. Thomas understands the importance of raising children who feel like their voices matter. Instead of cultivating fear in the face of authority, young adults should learn the power of unity and a collective fight against injustice. Only by raising children who choose to practice empathy instead of hate, who do not to coward but stand up to discrimination, and who understand the power of their voices, can we hope for a better future.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) School of Education. “Publishing Statistics on Children’s Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations and by People of Color and First/Native Nations Authors and Illustrators”. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2019.
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Dreyer, Benard P., et al. “The Death of George Floyd: Bending the Arc of History Towards Justice for Generations of Children.” Pediatrics, 2020, p. e2020009639. Crossref, Web.
Owen, Gabrielle. “Adolescence, Blackness, and the Politics of Respectability in Monster and The Hate U Give.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 43, no. 2, 2019, pp. 236–60. Crossref, Web.
Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer + Bray, 2017.