Don’t be fooled by the classification – The Hate U Give is more than an YA book. In fact, when I bought it, I thought it was a regular novel. I am glad I bought it and even happier I read it. This is a book that has changed my life. In the way To Kill A Mockingbird changed my life. I am hoping that many people read this book to open a conversation about things that we do not want to admit exist or talk about.
The story is about Starr Carter. She is in high school. She lives in a rough neighborhood, but she goes to a private school that is mostly white. She attends the school with her two brothers. She has a white boyfriend, that her dad doesn’t know about. Her mother is a nurse. Her dad owns the neighborhood grocery store. He used to be a King Lord – one of the local gangs in their neighborhood. Now he’s not, after he went to prison to save the leader from a long sentence. Starr has an older half brother and younger brother. Her uncle lives in a nice neighborhood near her school. He is a cop and his wife is a surgeon.
Starr goes to a party in her ‘hood. She is there are runs into her old friend, Khalil, who she has not seen in a while. While at the party, shots ring out and Starr and Khalil leave. They are driving in Khalil’s car when he is pulled over by the police. The stop escalates and Khalil is pulled from the car. He is shot by the officer and Starr is the only witness. She is afraid to come forward publicly.
As she struggles with this issue, and with people making accusations that Khalil was a thug and a drug dealer who may have deserved to get shot, her mother tells her, “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.” Truly words to live by.
A little later in the book, she is talking to her father. They are discussing why Khalil may have been selling drugs. Starr suggests lack of opportunity. Her father agrees and then says, “Corporate America don’t bring jobs to our communities, and they damn sure ain’t quick to hire us. Then, shit, even if you do have a high school diploma, so many of the schools in our neighborhoods don’t prepare us well enough.” That paragraph alone is cause for a long discussion about race, poverty, privilege, economics, and education. It should spark a conversation.
Later in the book, Starr and her mother are talking about one of her close friends, who she finds out is really a racist. Her mother says to her, “At an early age I learned that people make mistakes, and you have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them.” Ultimately, Starr decides that her love for her former friend is not enough to overcomes the girl’s very racist statements, that she claims is really joking.
I cannot say enough about this book. It made me feel like Starr. It made me think about all of those words that have become buzzwords in recent years – white privilege, police brutality, opportunity, prison, drugs, gangs. More than a political statement, this book is lyrical and so well-written. I found it astonishing that this is Ms. Thomas’ first novel. It is a gem. If I were an English teacher at any level, I would assign this book. It is just phenomenal and it will stay with me for a very, very long time. Like I said, this book changed my life.