When I first finished The Hate U Give, I thought I had my review completely written in my head. It was going to read like this:
Any review I write will be an injustice to the experience you will have on your own. Go into the book without knowing anything and let it move you. This book is important; go read it. The end.
But it has now been about a week since I finished it and, of all the books we have read thus far, this is the one Erica and I have had the most discussions about. And through those, I found myself thinking that I could attempt to write something informative that might not take away from your experience…so that is what I am going to try to do.
After reviewing Jackal, we needed ideas for other books to read. It was my turn to pick, so we reached out to some friends to see what they thought. We got a lot of great options, but one we heard from a few people was The Hate U Give. After hearing it was an amazing YA book, we went for it, and I honestly believe I am a better person for it.
Like many of you reading this, I was a 90s kid. I grew up listening to Tupac’s All Eyez On Me album (in my 1989 Honda Accord with the flip-up lights). I knew the words to every song on the album and to many of his other songs. I was a fan. Can’t you picture it? Scrappy little white ginger with glasses who THINKS he can rap on beat?! I may as well have put some Vanilla Ice lines in my hair and bleached the tips… Oh wait, I did.
But regarding Tupac, I was young. I didn’t understand—nor did I have the wherewithal to think about trying to understand—what he was really talking about in some of his songs.
I bring Tupac up because the author has been quoted as saying Tupac inspired her to write this book. For example, did you know that the term “Thug Life” to Tupac was an acronym—and a meaningful one at that? Read the book to find out what the acronym is and what it really means. It’s powerful.
The Hate U Give is definitely still a YA book and centers around Starr, our teenage narrator. She comes from an African-American community yet goes to a private school in a predominately white area. She has to balance these two worlds until an event forces her to decide what kind of person she wants to be.
First and foremost, the writing is amazing. The book moves at the right pace, speeding up in appropriate areas and slowing down to give emphasis in others.
What I really took from this book, besides a great story, was perspective—observing through Starr a life and set of situations that I have never experienced because I happen to have been born white (and a ginger).
My sister and I were raised in a suburb of Los Angeles. We were brought up to appreciate people from other cultures and to not judge someone by the color or look of their hair, eyes, or skin. People are people, no matter what they look like. I have bi-racial nieces and, until recently, had a black brother-in-law.
But what this book helped to reinforce in me is that just because I CAN appreciate those of other cultures and ethnicities, it doesn’t mean I have a clue what it’s like to actually grow up in their shoes and DAMMIT why am I not making more of an effort to TRY?
This book has deep and heavy moments, but it also has light and funny parts, too. It is still a YA book, after all. Starr:
No lie, every time a sneaker is cleaned wrong, a kitten dies.
There are a bunch more funny and endearing parts. Some of my favorite involve Starr interacting with her father, especially when talking about Harry Potter:
Daddy claims the Hogwarts houses are really gangs. They have their own colors, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron, and Hermione never snitch on one another, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldemort. They’re scared to say his name. Really, that “He Who Must Not Be Named” stuff is like giving him a street name. That’s some gangbanging shit right there.
Whether I was laughing, angry/happy for Starr, or reflecting on my own life, this book moved me. I hope it does the same for you.
Those who know me, know that I sometimes get embarrassed about things. I get embarrassed over my taking medication to be stable. I get embarrassed over feeling like an inferior wife to such a great husband. I get embarrassed over being an American who has substantially different views from those of her President. But this book reminded me of a long-held embarrassment—and this one is extra heavy, I warn you—I get embarrassed over being white. White native-speakers of English have a lot of privileges others don’t have. They were the first to be able to vote and buy land, they were the first to own businesses, and they’ve never had to ride in the backs of busses or fear hooded figures will burn crosses on their lawns. They’ve never once been told their language or looks or state of being is inferior to others. And so rather than be part of the race that holds all the cards, I’ve wanted to be on the other side. The side of the fighters. The side of the determined.
I bring up my personal preferences because race and race relationships are a huge part of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. This book is not for the light of heart. It’s for people who have always wanted to know what it’s like to be black—not from a historical standpoint, but from a modern-day viewpoint. And what is more, it’s from a teenager’s perspective. Starr, a high-schooler, is surrounded by people who, at times, lack the maturity to be tactful and kind. She has to deal with racism and selfishness from her peers—peers who are not black and, therefore, do not always comprehend where she’s coming from.
Now, let me be clear. This is not an anti-white book. It’s an anti-racism book. There are ignorant and unkind people—both white and black—who have substantial roles in this book. There are mistakes made across the board. This isn’t about hating on any race in particular. It’s about opening eyes up to a viewpoint that isn’t always recognized or understood.
In the early part of my review, I mention language as sometimes being considered a hindrance (for nonnative speakers). Language plays a big part in The Hate U Give, and it’s one of the things that most stood out to me. Both informal and formal strains are used. And they’re changed up according to situations and people. When talking to white people (law enforcement, media, teachers, students), it’s formal. When talking to those of Starr’s own race (family, black friends), it’s informal. Even Starr recognizes that her language is basically split in two. She is two different people, and one is clearly more accepted than the other.
What must that be like? Knowing that a part of you that you can’t hide is undesirable—a part of you that is essential to your very being? Starr helps you understand this. And it made Erica, the white person, wake the hell up and be even more open-minded. As Matt said, you gain perspective reading this book.
Matt also mentioned the lightness and heaviness of this book. The Hate U Give has great balance—in writing and storytelling. There are so many memorable quotes, so many lines I highlighted. Wise snippets and phrases that made me laugh out loud or pause or even hold my breath.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, absolutely. Do I think everyone should read it? Probably not. Unfortunately, we still live in a society that can be very divided. People of a certain mindset wouldn’t be able to digest the author’s words as easily. But for those who are interested in seeing a different point of view, this is a worthy and powerful read, and one I won’t soon forget.
This is a really interesting book for Erica and me. Even after having multiple conversations about it, we still had totally different experiences. I do agree with most of what she said, especially the part about the GREAT HUSBAND. I don’t agree with the beginning of that sentence, but I might just be printing out “She Said: …such a great husband,” on stickers and putting it on the fridge…and every mirror in the house.
Regarding her review, however, there are a couple of parts I do disagree with. First, I don’t think this book is anti-racism (nor a pro-racism book, just to be clear). I think the author does a great job not making any judgments one way or the other, but leaves it to the reader to find their own takeaways… Although there are some really funny observations about white people (Tar-jay vs. Target).
In previous reviews, I have talked about how much I prefer authors to show rather than tell. This book is a perfect model for that. There is no preaching. There are no overly long descriptions. To me, this is first and foremost a YA book, which happens to be set in a community and culture I do not have as much direct exposure to.
My personal takeaways were powerful, and I hope others find similar experiences. However, others might read it and think it is nothing more than a good YA book, maybe because of their own experiences. For that reason, I would not limit who I would recommend reading it. That all being said, in our current culture, I agree with Erica that there will be some who won’t like this book because of the culture it depicts. But I know those of you who consider us friends and have followed these reviews are more open-minded than that, which is why I say go one-click this book.
The second part of my disagreement with Erica’s review has to do with her comments about being embarrassed. I will always fight her on those comments because, to me, she is the strongest and most amazing woman I know—just for being here today. She has no reason to be embarrassed about anything. Ever. Period.
I was surprised to read she felt embarrassed to be white. I wasn’t even sure how to respond to it. We don’t get a choice where we are born or what color our skin is. I’ve never felt embarrassed because I was born white, but I think I can understand where she is coming from. It is really fucking unfair that just because I was born a particular color, in a particular nation, at a particular time—at what feels like a totally random choice—opportunities in my life are automatically different from the start.
It is for that reason that we shouldn’t fall back into embarrassment but should be using those feelings in advocating change, in whatever way we can. As Starr is told in the book, “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
And as this writer some of you might know once said, “Let them feel the weight of who you really are, and let them fucking deal with it.”
The Hate U Give is being made into a movie. This is one of those you want to read before it comes out.
To purchase a copy of or read a synopsis for Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, click here.
To view the trailer or find out more information about The Hate U Give movie, click here.