The Hate U Give is about a black teenager called Starr whose best friend is shot by a white police officer for no reason. Starr lives in a mostly black neighbourhood rife with gang violence and goes to school in a predominantly white, wealthy environment. Her two worlds, which she so painstakingly tries to keep separate, crash together when Khalil’s murder becomes national news and Starr must come to terms with losing longterm friends, both to armed police and to the underlying racist thoughts of the people she once trusted. She must learn to be at peace with her own identity which she has hidden from everyone for so long.
This is a hyped-up YA novel and we all know how disappointing hyped YA novels can be. The Hate U Give delivers: it is passionate, realistic and important. I’ve just heard that it’s going to be turned into a movie, and if they do it justice I think it could be a really great thing. (Rue from The Hunger Games is playing Starr – I bloody love that.)
My only issues while reading this were minor ones: I felt there were a few too many characters, so I struggled to keep track of who was who, especially since a lot of their names began with the same letter; I also couldn’t take Starr seriously whenever she mentioned ‘gangbangers’. From what I can see in the book, this is clearly a phrase used widely for violent gang members, but to me in the UK, a gangbang is a fairly flippant term for group sex. (I googled the definition and it seems most people use it as a term for gang rape. However, that’s not my usage of it – gangbang to me is a phrase I would use for consensual sex, perhaps something like dogging, which is why I kept finding it funny.)
I found Starr a very likeable, relatable character, even though she’s had completely different life experiences to me. There are several references to Harry Potter, and I always look more fondly on characters who are Harry Potter fans, or just fans of reading in general. Starr mentions her father’s theory that Harry Potter is about gangs, which I found really interesting:
Daddy claims the Hogwarts houses are really gangs. They have their own colors, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron and Hermione never snitch on one another, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldemort. They’re scared to say his name. Really, that “He Who Must Not Be Named” stuff is like giving him a street name. That’s some gangbanging shit right there.
I actually noticed a few similarities between The Hate U Give and To Kill a Mockingbird. What made me notice it at first was a reference to standing in other people’s shoes before judging them, and as soon as I noticed it, I started thinking of all these other things that reminded me of TKaM.
For instance, Maverick is like Atticus. He’s Starr’s hero and protector. He’s stalwart and always has the answers, which Starr always trusts to be truth. There is even a moment when it appears Maverick is about to become the victim of something (I’m trying desperately hard not to give anything away!), like when Atticus is faced by the members of the lynch mob outside Tom Robinson’s jail.
Just like Tom Robinson, Khalil and Natasha are the mockingbirds, shot down in their innocence. The same goes for all those unarmed black people shot by white police in real life:
It would be easy to quit if it was just about me, Khalil, that night, and that cop. It’s about way more than that though. It’s about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante.
It’s also about Oscar.
It’s even about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first – Emmett.
The messed-up part? There are so many more.
It’s an excellent ending. It reads like a manifesto: this isn’t good enough, something needs to change. Suddenly we shift from Starr’s voice to the author’s herself, just like we shift from a list of fictional characters from the novel we’ve just been reading to a list of real-life tragedies. This is the point where you know for a fact, though it has been clear throughout the novel, that Starr was born directly from the author’s frustration and anger with a society that stills sees black people as second-class citizens, still sees their lives as being worth less than white people’s.
I feel like the only way this review can do this book justice is by giving you quote after quote after quote, so all I can say now is: go read it. Honestly, it’s really good.