Book Review: “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
All eyes were on me. Well, I suppose the gaze of the audience was partial between the two of us for around 30 minutes or so. In all honesty, I am probably pushing my luck with this shameless bravado but that’s neither here nor there. There I was, sat knee-to-knee with a New York Times best selling author! My role during the UK book tour? To simply be in conversation with the writer that is causing an unapologetic Black Lives Matter fracas for the press. Luckily, I was granted access to reading The Hate U Give ahead of the curious audience that sat patiently throughout our interview and unbeknownst, I had a few too many questions to ask. The phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” was uttered to the alter-ego of a Lycra-adorned adolescent prancing around New York city with “spidey powers” - but he ain’t never lied. With that responsibility, I bring to you a few small responses from the author Angie Thomas and a cheeky personal review of the book too.
The Hate U Give follows the flawed character Starr, a 16-year-old black girl dealing with real black girl problems. Not only does she live in an inner-city American neighbourhood that is both poor and black, but she is a resident at a school that caters strictly to white suburbia. There is a personal inward angst our narrator faces throughout, and this is partially due to the parallel of the worlds she mentally UberSELECTs between. On one hand, Starr is too black for the white school kids and subconsciously alters her speech; alternatively the Tumblr-head doesn’t fully connect concretely with the black neighbourhood she once felt a part of. Initially, this is where the story begins as we play an imaginary lingering third wheel, in the scene that is arguably the beginning of the end for our main star.
Spoiler alert #1: her best friend Khalil is shot and killed by police. OK maybe not so much of a spoiler as it is written on the blurb and possibly, one of the most important things in the novel… or is it?
The Hate U Give is a compelling tale exploring sensitive and contentious subjects in today’s western world: race, white privilege, white supremacy & the murders of unarmed marginalized black people at the hands of the police. We follow Starr on her journey to gain justice for Khalil’s death and it is this rhetoric that plays so well into the hands of the Black Lives Matter movement. When I asked Thomas if she was ever worried that the novel could be interpreted as anti-police, her answer was perhaps just as interrogating as the question — “no.”
Of course the response (and mostly likely all other responses I will include) from her is not verbatim but beautifully sums up Thomas’ linguistic focus of The Hate U Give. Perhaps, this is represented best by the pairing of her own life with that of the fictitious Starr. Within Starr’s community we are met with gang-bangers, nosy neighbours, drugs, snitches & domestic abusers. I nervously opened up our interview by asking our author to explain her early Mississippi upbringing; of which she described a rough, tough, but yet inclusive community. Thomas grew up in a neighbourhood that was “notorious for drug dealers, shootings, crime” and other problematic black stereotypes. Interestingly enough, it is these stigmatized black lives that often fall subject to the hands of murder from white counterparts (often employed as police officers) to inspire what begun as only a short story. Regardless, Thomas explains that there is still beauty in many of the rough diamonds within this very community. One“neighbourhood drug dealer” acted as a “superhero for the kids” she states, beating up paedophiles like a real-life spiderman. But thank goodness there were no Lycra bodysuits involved.
Thomas has proclaimed herself as holding an “unofficial degree in Hip-Hop.” Albeit, her abilities in this arena are yet to be publicly challenged, the title of the book best represents this passion as it is taken from Tupac’s T.H.U.G L.I.F.E studio album. Although released in initially in 1994, the album’s acronym still continues to play a significant stance in Thomas’ 2017 depiction of disenfranchisement. According to the late rapper, the acronym stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F-cks Everybody.” Fortunately, this isn’t something that we as a reader must come to understand alone but so does our troubled protagonist.
I raise my eyebrows. “What?”
“Listen” The Hate U — the letter U — Give Little Infants F-cks Everybody.
T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?”
The novel’s title follows this same progressive statement in parallel with the Tupac lyrics the author is so fond of. Intentional genius. We may be venturing alongside Starr during her own personal ordeal for the plight of unforeseeable justice; however the truths of unequivocal, unbalanced societal constructs are very much discerned. The Hate U Give shines a very bright light on ideals such as: economic segregation, mixed relations, the media’s dissection of protest, police brutality and racism. All of which, lead the novel’s themes and exploration of inner-city truth through the eyes of characters that we can relate too.
Representation is key and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give finally unlocks the door barred shut by popular literature.
The Hate U Give resonates so personally with an audience — that arguably may be considered vastly black — with it’s focus on black popular culture. From the engaging language to the characters you can relate to, there is representation in The Hate U Give unmatched elsewhere in today’s literature. In a larger and more broader view perhaps, the characters appeal best to the ongoing struggles within the black community and constructs of the black identity. Thomas explained to me that one of the things that brought her joy after the book release, were the amount of young people that approached her with their reactions to Starr’s use of Tumblr. The characters and their ability to ‘nae nae’ resonate with our young black experiences in a weirdly woeful and fickle 2017.
The heart-warming references to the likes of; The Fresh Prince, Tupac references, Jordan’s, old-school hip-hop and Chris’ low key love for Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Amber Rose are some examples of just how much it feels to be reading a book written directly to you. Representation is key and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give finally unlocks the door barred shut by popular literature. Thomas explained to me that she was quite cautious of having too many popular references, specifically with regards to dance moves. Perhaps this is understandable, as fades come and go faster today than a male love interest in Keeping up with the Kardashians.
Now, The Hate U Give does present a frustrating issue that peculiarly acts as one of the novel’s greatest strengths — it is written for a young audience. Perhaps, the target audience aimed at young readers isn’t the sole issue but just how obvious this becomes when reading it. This is problematic in the novel’s ability to become an easy read and linguistically not as expansive as I would yearn for it to be. A prime example of this displeasure whilst wrapped up in a great plot that can stop short of orgasmic heights, is Hunger Games. No discredit to Thomas herself however, I call it the ‘Hunger Games Effect.’ Yes, the narrative may be somewhat compelling or sensationally addictive but, if you leave with a thirst in your mouth — a thirst only quenched by the relief of complex Harry Potter-esque language — then there is a sense of dissatisfaction none the less. It would be ridiculous to compare language to that of a Rowling creation however, her ability to aim a story at a young audience without using “young language” is an outstanding attribute. When questioning Thomas about this, she revealed her intentions to engage her target audience that could resonate with these popular ideals was purposeful. Perhaps, this is the novel’s greatest aspect in its ability to pay tribute to things the young generation hold so dear in a gif-filled 2017.
Spoiler alert #2: The Hate U Give is already in production to become a film!
What I didn’t expect from my time with Angie Thomas at the Birmingham stop on the book tour, was the spontaneous interaction with Momma’ Thomas. Stage left sat the comedic anecdotal tones of an individual that not only was able to provide humour, but also wisdom. Our private conversation was the key example of said wisdom however, the public display of agreement created both excitement and insight. Let me explain. I heard through the grapevine (a.k.a Black Twitter) that a movie adaptation was in the works and I had a few suggestions for the characters themselves. Surprisingly, most of these suggestions were either given the official look of approval or met with hilarious outbursts of simultaneous agreement from Momma’ Thomas. Some of these accepted suggestions included: Seven as Daniel Kuluuya (Get Out), Uncle Carlos as Anthony Anderson, Lisa as Taraji P. Henson and Nana as Jennifer Lewis!
And to every kid in Georgetown and in all “the Gardens” of the world: your voices matter, your dreams matter, your lives matter. Be roses that grow in concrete.
My excitement for the upcoming film does not derive solely in the fruition of the novel meeting the big screen but, in the ability to have its message reach an even greater audience. When reading The Hate U Give helplessness resonates. As much as we would all want to accept it or not, there are vast amounts of people treated differently by the colour of their skin every single day. In some realms of this often dark world, lives are often at risk because of this. Be it so serious or dramatic as the blood-stained, linguistically painted scene of Khalil’s death or not, there are situations that only by true belief can we seek justice and fairness. The Hate U Give presents the valid point that justice resonates within our own individual voice.
Whether or not you believe that black lives matter, we all ineptly hold our own lives very dear. The hate someone can give can be silenced in the very power our voice holds. Throughout, the various twists and turns in The Hate U Give lead us on a fast-paced expedition of justice that is greatly needed in the world today. Opinion and observation of those whose voices are often lost in commotion of political correctness and anti-blackness is hereby shared. The narrated voice in this book will hopefully draw you into a conquest for all things virtuous in a world that doesn’t always seem to truly listen.
You can purchase The Hate U Give here