“I look at books as being a form of activism because a lot of times they’ll show us a side of the world that we may not have known about.” – Angie Thomas
Every once in a while, I read a book that I wish I had read years ago. Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give gave me that exact feeling.
The Hate U Give follows Starr, a young African American teen living in a poor neighbourhood, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer. It is a story that feels all too real in our current political climate, and multiple times whilst reading this book, I could not help but think that this story could have easily been non-fiction.
All too often, we hear stories about unarmed African Americans, usually young men or teenagers, being fatally shot by police officers in the US. As an Australian, a lot of these stories come to me through news reporters or online articles, and as such are mediated by white adult voices, voices that are often so removed from incidents like this that it is impossible to truly gather a sense of how situations like this affect local communities and their young people. The Hate U Give broke that tradition for me, bringing me an up-close encounter with the reality of how events like this impact a community from the inside, and the nuances of community mourning and reaction.
One of the most profound themes throughout this novel is that of remembrance, and how we choose to remember young people who have been killed. Throughout the novel, the possibility of Khalil’s drug dealing past dominates a lot of media and external discourse surrounding Khalil’s death, almost as if this justifies his death. However, Starr constantly pushes back against this discourse, forcing the spotlight to shift, if ever so slightly, towards the friend she knew, towards the facts of his death at the hands of a police officer who chose to shoot an unarmed innocent teenager based on the colour of his skin.
Angie Thomas takes her insight a step further with her description of poverty, neighbourhoods ruled by gang wars, racial politics, class disparities, family structures, and the education system, and how each of these areas are affected by the death of a young member of the community. Her approach to these issues is tremendously heartfelt and unabashedly real – she is not trying to sugar coat the realities of American social systems by any means, but rather, pull them apart for critique. In choosing to do so through the medium of Young Adult fiction, she has opened up a new place for discussion of these issues for young people and has allowed them to engage in a more critical train of thought – something that our young people are already doing, and should be encouraged to continue with new and important perspectives.
I highly encourage anyone and everyone to read this book. It is easily one of the most insightful and brilliantly written books I have read and hits upon an issue that is a necessary point of discussion, especially in the Trump-era. More importantly, I think that this is a book that should be on the high school curriculum, both in the US and here in Australia, and I hope that educators will consider the impact of books like this on the ways in which young people can engage with social issues. I know that my own understanding of the issues discussed in this book has been hugely impacted, and this story will stay with me for a long time.
The Hate U Give is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.
Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of The Hate U Give. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.
© Hayley New 2017