“Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug.
He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I'll remember how he died.
Fairy tale? No. But I'm not giving up on a better ending.”
― Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
I had heard amazing things about Angie Thomas' "The Hate U Give", and for the most part, my expectations were not disappointed. Thomas has written a very timely story, told through the eyes of Star, a teenage girl who witnesses her friend being shot by a policeman.
At the beginning of the book, Star recounts a conversation she had with her parents, where they told her as a little girl how to behave when confronted with the police, to be calm, to do as they say, never to challenge them. This made me so sad, because it is almost the opposite, in a way, of what my own parents told me. They told me when ever I was afraid or in trouble to call the police, that they would help me. It is hard to imagine living in a world already rife with gang violence as Star's is, and still not to be able to feel one can depend on the protection of the police. Setting the stage like this, Thomas appeals to those readers who have been told the same by their parents, and opens the eyes of those who were taught as I was.
Kalil and Star are two black kids driving in a tough neighborhood and the policeman is white. This happens at the very beginning of the story, and really sets the stage for all that is to come. Of course, the death of Kali,is tragically reminiscent of the death of Trayvon Martin and so many others. The story centers around the way Star deals with what happened, and how she view the world as a result. Her father is a very active gang member and spent Star's childhood in prison, and her uncle, who helped raise her, is a policeman. I thought this juxtaposition was very clever, and really showed that it is important not to generalize, to see the person, not the color of their skin nor their profession or social standing as a means to define them. Star seems like a very real person, she veers between typical teenage angst and the realization that her worldview has forever been altered with this huge event she witnessed.
Adding further depth, Star tries to find a balance between the mostly-white school she attends and the mostly-black neighborhood in which she lives. She has a white boyfriend and friends, but they never see her home or where she hangs out, because their parents do not want them going to that part of town, and so they cannot really understand where she comes from and who she is. Star is a confident girl, and I liked reading through her voice, a voice that felt, at times so very different from my own, and at others entirely relatable.
Angie Thomas' book is the sort of book that lingers even after you have turned the last page, and that is exactly how it should be. In the wake of Black Lives Matter, of frequent news reports of unnecessary police violence, frankly, in the world of Donald Trump and his wall and multitude of prejudices, "The Hate U Give" tells a story that should be told, and I think doing it in the form of a YA book makes it all the more accessible. In fact, I think it could be a great conversation starter and certainly thought-provoking to read it in the classroom. It might feel uncomfortable at first, because it can be difficult to openly discuss a subject that is prone to cause offense, but nothing can change or get better if we do not talk, ask and answer questions and accept that something in the collective consciousness needs to change.
"The Hate U Give" is Thomas' first novel, which left me very impressed, and film rights have already been optioned, so I do not doubt this will get the recognition it deserves.