This is why I love reading. We are all, by virtue of who we are born, limited to a single life experience. But books, amazing books like this one, can take us beyond our own experience to see life the way another person sees it. To, however briefly, live their perspective. There are so many cultures, opinions, places, realities, that I will never visit or know on a personal level, but reading creates the opportunity for me to do so. And this is invaluable. Though there are so many important nonfiction explorations of the, sometimes very difficult and controversial, topics and viewpoints explored in THUG, there is something about a good fictional story that allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes in a way nothing else can. It’s just a different way of gaining understanding in the myriad options available. If you are looking for that kind of fictional perspective growth…please, please, please take advantage of this book. And if you aren’t, well you’d probably benefit from it even more.
“The Hate U Give is timely, powerful, honest, and completely necessary. Thomas not only gives voice to the black experience in the US in general (both the ups and the downs), but more specifically, she humanizes it in a way that scholarly essays or news-like reports cannot. Our heroine, 16-year-old Starr, lives in Garden Heights, a disadvantaged minority neighborhood, troubled by gangs, drugs, and general poverty. But she and her brothers go to a nearby private school, Williamson, populated by more privileged, primarily white, students. Starr feels like she is living two different lives, acting as two different people – the Garden Heights Starr and the Williamson Starr. Neither is fully her real self, but neither is not her real self either. When one night, out at a party in her neighborhood, she becomes the only witness to her childhood friend, Khalil’s, murder (an unarmed black youth shot unprovoked by a white police officer), Starr has to learn, in dealing with the aftermath, to sort her emotions, find her voice, combine her lives, and decide who and what are important to her and worth fighting for. This is not an easy read, not by any means. For all that this is categorized as YA, there is nothing young about the topic(s). But the reality is that this is what youth are living, seeing, dealing with today – and so their literature should reflect that and allow them this type of fictional outlet to experience and sort through their own emotions and reactions, so that they can be better prepared to deal with their reality. And this type of medium, with multiple viewpoints (some of which are definitively not something the actual media gives/allows), making “fiction-coated reality” like this ever more important.
This book has everything, discussing and exploring themes from family and who qualifies and what you owe them to the legacy of racism in the US to interracial friends/couples to the role of media in the court of “public opinion” to the morality of who may or may not “deserve” to be killed to exploring if one bad decision is what truly makes a person who they are to the many levels of guilt, anger and fear felt by the characters. And that’s just the beginning. There is the gravitas maintained regarding the main storyline, Khalil’s murder, and the general adversities faced by black people in the US today, simultaneous with the small details and interactions of everyday life that make you laugh and roll your eyes (after all, Starr is just like any other 16-year old embarrassed by her parents, annoyed by her little brother, dealing with boyfriend drama, and binge-watching her favorite old tv shows). There is the universality of the importance of family and just being a teenager juxtaposed with an insightful exploration of the cultural differences among different families and friend groups. There is the balance of celebrating the good and rejecting the bad, both in Starr’s Garden Heights life and in her Williamson life, which is key for any reader, regardless of their background. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out in her essay Dear Ijeawele (which I just read and cannot stop thinking about…so sorry for the drop here), it is possible to be both proud and supportive of your heritage, while still recognizing and renouncing the negative aspects. Nothing, ever, is completely black and white. And Thomas delves deeply into this theme throughout the book, exposing and addressing, celebrating and rejecting, the good and bad of numerous cultures and sub-cultures, from gangs to families to the police to friend groups, all of varying and mixed racial representation and viewpoints. Everything is so complex, so nuanced, and so gorgeously, precisely, depicted.
Angie Thomas – I can see why this book exploded onto the scene the way it did. It is everything we all need to read right now. You did exactly what you helped Starr learn – you used your own weapon, your voice, to fight what you know is wrong. Although Khalil and Starr may be fictional, their experiences and feelings, and those of their family and friends, are absolutely not. There are countless people living these exact lives and emotions (gorgeously acknowledged at the end) and that is what the best fiction does, providing that experiential insight to those of us who have not lived it. I hope, I know, that Starr’s voice, your voice, and the voices of an ever-growing number of people in real life (our voices) can have the influence and make the difference that will give justice and honor to those for whom Khalil and Starr’s story is reality. And I want to say thank you for your words and your voice and your efforts.”
This is the type of book from which it is absolutely necessary to note quotes/passages that really strike you, so here are mine:
“The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen—people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe this can be it.”
“I always said that is I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”
“Good-byes hurt the most when the other person’s already gone.”
“…get them fucking tanks out my neighborhood… Claim folks need to act peaceful, but rolling through here like we in a goddamn war.”
“Neither one of them thought they had much of a choice. If I were them, I’m not sure I’d make a much better one. Guess that makes me a thug too.”
“There’s that word again. Bravery. Brave peoples’ legs don’t shake. Brave people don’t feel like puking. Brave people sure don’t have to remind themselves how to breathe if they think about that night too hard. If bravery is a medical condition, everybody’s misdiagnosed me.”
“Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr,” she says. “It means you go on even though you’re scared. And you’re doing that.”