Reading ‘The Hate U Give’ made it immediately clear that this was about a world very far away from my own experiences. Set in poor, black America, it really couldn’t have been further from my own white, middle-class British background – and that’s the point. This feels like a story that was desperate to be told, in all its stark brutality and personal ground shifting essence.
We follow sixteen year old Starr, living in her poor, black neighbourhood, but travelling to a predominantly white school in the suburbs. These two worlds seem inevitably destined to crash. Starr is the only witness to the brutal and senseless murder of her lifelong friend, Khalil. Despite her bravery in speaking out about the circumstances of his death (and, let’s face it, no teen should ever have to do that), there is uncertainty around whether the police officer responsible will be held to account, and community tensions inevitably mount to breaking point. Starr has the almost entirely unswerving support of her family and her (white) boyfriend. Torn between staying within the community, and moving away to what may well be a safer life her family is shown to be so strong and loving. And the community itself is full of conflicts – run by violent, drug dealing gangs who at one and the same time offer a kind of ‘protection’, money and a real sense of community belonging. The everyday people trying to get by day to day are under no illusions about the threat of the gangs, and in the end their utter togetherness gives a message of hope and possibility.
This book is Angie Thomas’s debut novel, and, as I said, has the feel of a story wanting to be told. I found my understandings shifting as I read more – surely the best a book can hope to achieve. The world is complex – this book told me that nothing is as clear-cut as we might hope it to be. Understanding of, and empathy for others, without jumping to judgement, is surely the ultimate we can strive for.
I gather the film rights have been optioned – it could also be powerful stuff if handled well. In one review we hear the book “does have the potential to move the empathy dial in thousands of small and personal ways.” This perfectly sums up my personal reaction to this book. Read it!