The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a fictional story about Starr Carter who was present when a police officer killed her best friend, Khalil, who was unarmed. Starr is 16 years old and wise beyond her years. She’s smart, sensitive, funny, and warm, but she’s also a real person and makes mistakes. You will like Starr. She spends her days at a suburban white school where she speaks and behaves in a certain way to fit in. She spends her evenings and weekends at her home in Garden Heights, a poor neighborhood where stores have bullet proof glass and drive-by shootings are commonplace. Moving between these worlds takes a lot of energy – she speaks and behaves differently depending on where she is. She doesn’t feel like she can just be herself in most situations, and that is exhausting and sometimes confusing to her.
Starr is central to the investigation of Khalil’s death. She was in the car when the police officer pulled them over, and she witnessed the events leading up to the police officer shooting Khalil 3 times in the back. She held Khalil in her arms while he died with the police officer pointing a gun at her. Starr has to make a number of very tough decisions. Should she speak up for Khalil and challenge the incorrect story given by the police officer? Can she talk to her suburban friends about what happened, or will they view her differently if she admits that she was with Khalil when he was killed? Should she talk to the police and the district attorney about what happened, even if by doing so, she draws the wrath of a dangerous drug dealer in her community who has his own agenda?
This book tackles many issues head on. You will read about race and racism, interracial relationships and how those can be viewed negatively by both the black and white communities, how gangs have such an allure because they provide acceptance and success for people who have very few opportunities, how bias plays a role in how we view other people based on the color of their skin or gender, how the wealth of a neighborhood determines school resources, how variances in school resources results in different outcomes and opportunities for students, and what it’s like to be black and be accused of acting “white.”
You will also meet lovely people who choose to live in Garden Heights because they want to transform the neighborhood into a safer community with more prosperity. Mr. Reuben, a local restaurant owner, gives kids free meals when they bring him their report cards, whether their grades are worthy of praise or not. Starr’s dad owns a grocery store and employs high school boys to give them an alternative to gangs. And there are many others you will meet in this book who are trying to be the change.
I have long been flummoxed about the problems between so many black communities and the police in the U.S. The Hate U Give was brilliant for me, because I now better understand the fear driven by bias (assumptions we make about other people based upon what they look like). Biologically speaking, fear is supposed to protect us – it kicks in our instinctive fight or flight response – but it also diverts blood away from the part of our brain that controls logical thinking. If neither police nor the person in custody is thinking logically during those high stakes interactions, misunderstandings are more likely to occur. If we can eliminate the bias through better education, diversity and inclusion training, and the like, then we have the power to reduce fear and put an end to these terrible outcomes.
I don’t have it all figured out, but I do feel more informed. The worst part of the book is that it is fiction so I won’t be able to meet Starr Carter. I don’t have any doubt, though, that there are many strong and courageous people in the world who are living similar lives. I hope that they read this book and are inspired by Starr.
I highly recommend the audio version of this book. It was excellent and the narrator brought the characters to life.
In honor of Black History Month, I am reading books about African Americans. What are you doing to celebrate Black History Month?
Have you read The Hate U Give or On the Come Up by Angie Thomas? If so, what did you think about these books?
What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?