First, I don’t know how old Angie Thomas is, but she is clearly at least in touch with the era in which I grew up. Fresh Prince was a favorite. I definitely kept my head up with Tupac. Her references in The Hate U Give are steeped in the 90s. Perhaps that was a strategic way for an older audience, like me, to feel connected to the young Starr.
If so, it worked.
It seems like a trivial thing to mention for a book with such heavy themes. But, I think it demonstrates Thomas’ intelligent storytelling and her ability to create a book that is relatable to the masses, while challenging them with social and self-discovery at the same time.
First, let’s do a quick summary
This is a book about Starr. She’s a girl straddling two worlds: her home town in Garden Heights and her school-life at a swanky private school. It’s a classic coming-of-age story, that peels back layer-by-layer the fabric of racism in our current world, less blatant than in the Jim Crow era but just as dangerous.
This story expertly explores the confusion, hypocrisy and assumptions of race relations.
What do I think this book does best?
That answer is complex, but I’ll see if I can manage to explain. I could honestly spend an entire blog just dissecting the genius and subtleties of the cover of this book. But, let’s get to really important stuff because we don’t just want to judge a book by it’s cover, right?
It doesn’t look away
The Hate U Give isn’t afraid to look truth right in the face. It doesn’t trivialize or simplify or even provide answers to all the questions it raises. Instead, it embraces the complexity of racism, white privilege and social inequity. There’s no neat little bow of happiness tied up at the end. But the end is still satisfying.
It puts a face to concepts
The book shows normal people living, trying to get through life and make a better way while uncovering the effects of microaggressions.
This is one of the things I think Thomas really does best. For people who don’t think there is still racism in the world or that it’s not as “bad” as it was. “Bad” is a relative term and this book demonstrates clearly both the individual, institutional and societal detriment of microaggressions. Yes, they are a thing and the book expertly weaves that reality into the story of Starr.
It expertly uses metaphor
“Goodness can grow anywhere, if you cultivate it and don’t stifle it.”
One of my very favorite parts of this story is Starr’s Dad and his roses. It’s a small character trait with a big meaning. The father is trying to grow the beauty of his neighborhood and the rose represent this desire. What he doesn’t realize is that he is the rose of not just his neighborhood, but society and by fighting for justice and raising children who will do the same, he cultivates beauty and goodness. To do that, first he has to grow the goodness where he is and then it has to spread.
It’s a book that entertains and teaches
“There are some people who will never see they’re wrong and the right thing may not happen, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to do good.”
Given our current political climate in the US this moral lesson fiercely resonates. With each passing day, we see blowback from hateful or hate-ignoring policies reverberate through the media. It can be difficult to not want to give up.
But, Starr and her story teach us that you have to remember to keep fighting for what’s right and good. You have to acknowledge that you have friends and family who may never change, may never recognize the hate they give and then decide if it’s worth having them in your life. It’s a powerful lesson. Because sometimes, people hide their hate under the guise of ignorance or opinion. But, it’s still hate. No matter what you try to dress it up as and it’s still wrong. And how you deal with it is still very personal.
It’s a book that says “but for the grace of God”
Judge not lest ye be judged.
Walk a mile in someone’s shoes.
That could have been me.
These are all sayings we hear often. The majority of us clearly know the right thing to do is not make assumptions, not judge people based on a single action or trait, but on the breadth of a person’s character and the circumstances with which they make their decisions. But we don’t always follow that sagely philosophy. I know I don’t! Admission is the first step to recovery right? This book helps you recognize that.
There is so much about this book that says to the reader, under those circumstances, I could have been that person. I could have been that drug dealer or that bossy, racist teenager, or the kid who was shot, if those had been my circumstances.
And that’s a lesson we all need to learn. If you think you’d have done better in that situation, you’d have made better choices, think again. Most likely, you grew up with better circumstances than many of the characters in this book. Does that mean you make excellent, perfect decisions on a daily basis? My guess is no.
The Hate U Give screams out – Don’t deny people their emotions and reactions if you haven’t a clue what it’s like to live their life. Instead, try to understand. Try to relate. Look beyond yourself and your prejudices (known and unknown). Look at the system and how it works against certain people. We all know it does. Stop denying it. Start doing something about it.
It’s about finding your voice
So many people in the country or in the world are afraid to speak out. Afraid to stand up. Or afraid to sit down because of what people may think. This, above all, is a book about finding your voice and the courage to stand up against oppression, even when it’s hard and scary and when it hurts. It’s a story about bravery, the real kind. Not the kind you think you get with fists and guns. The kind you get by speaking out.
This is a journey where Starr finds her voice. She figures out how to shine and how to bring the light of truth into the world, to be a star. One of the most poetic scenes is when in the dead of night Starr holds an exploding canister and that image becomes a beacon. She finds her voice.
To quote the penultimate line that is so timely and yet still so necessary to say.
“I’ll never be quiet.”