The Hate U Give feels inevitable, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s the kind of novel you hear about as a writer and think, “But of course…why didn’t I think of that?” All the standard elements of the Young Adult (YA) novel are here — not fitting in, parents who just don’t understand, first love, and socially relevant problems. YA novels regularly tackle topics about death, illness, rape, depression, and bullying. First-time novelist Angie Thomas goes further and creates a gripping story ripped straight from today’s headlines about police brutality: a white police officer murders an unarmed black teenager named Khalil. Undoubtedly, more novels for teenagers dealing with systemic racism, excessive police force and violence will be written. However, Thomas is the first, and she dives in fearlessly.
Sixteen year old Starr Carter is in a car with Khalil, her childhood best-friend, when they’re pulled over by police. Within minutes, he is shot and dead. Starr’s biggest issue, up to this point, had been navigating between two worlds — her mostly-white suburban prep school and her urban neighborhood. Khalil’s unjustified murder devastates her and heightens her other problems. She is caught in the middle of a family representing both sides of the law, a former gang-banger and ex-convict father, and a police-officer uncle. A hidden white boyfriend, insensitive friends, and post-traumatic stress threaten to pull apart the teenager. She notes, “It’s dope to be black, until it’s hard to be black.” Protests and riots challenge Starr to figure out how she should act or feel.
From the provocative title to the bold cover art, The Hate U Give commands attention and demands consideration of complicated racial issues. The novel offers no tidy solutions or neat endings only messy realities we struggle with as a nation.