April 24, 2017

Monday Review: THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

Synopsis: The Hate U Give has been reviewed, starred, and buzzed about for several weeks and I'm a little late to the party, but it deserves all the attention it has received, and more. The plot is ripped from the headlines: a young black man, Khalil, is shot and killed by the police during a traffic stop—but of course, that isn't the whole story. It never is. The police and media take the all-too-easy, well-trodden route of trying to paint Khalil as a thug, a drug dealer who may have been reaching for a weapon when the cop shot him out of "self-defense."

But there's another side to the story, and that's where our narrator comes in. Starr Carter lives in the same neighborhood as Khalil—a neighborhood she's known all her life, though she attends a suburban prep school; it's the neighborhood where her mother works as a clinic nurse and her father owns a grocery store. She was in the car when Khalil was shot, and is the only one who can give an observer's account of what happened.

Observations: This book does so much to humanize a situation that for many of us is only experienced as words and images coming from our television box. It puts us in the position of those whose communities suffer this type of institutionalized fear every day, and it isn't a comfortable position. Not for us readers, and certainly not for people in socioeconomically marginalized neighborhoods.

I have never felt such a complete understanding before of the complexity of social conditions that might lead to police shooting an unarmed youth—nor the tragedy that underlies these situations. I don't just mean the obvious tragedy of bereaved families or torn-apart communities, but the tragedy of impossible choices that poverty leads to, and the institutionalized prejudice against people of color and the poor that means a snap judgment call will almost inevitably go against them. Then there's our eager-to-jump-on-the-bandwagon media culture that virtually eliminates the idea of benefit of the doubt or opportunity for a fair defense. It's unconscionable and dehumanizing, which is why humanizing stories like this are so, so important.

But the book is not just about those who inhabit disadvantaged neighborhoods or are socioeconomically segregated (and I'm sorry to use that word, but I'm even sorrier that segregation is still a Thing That Happens); it's about ALL the liminal, uncomfortable spaces that people of color often find themselves inhabiting. Starr, the narrator, juggles two worlds: her suburban private school, where she excels but never quite feels like she fits in, and her home neighborhood, where she and her family do their best to stay away from drug deals and gang violence while also putting their all, their heart, into improving their community. There is a lot in this story about Starr finding her place in the world, and without giving too much away, I love how that aspect of the book was resolved, by Starr, her friends, and her family.

Conclusion: Do yourself and the world a favor and read this, please. Society cannot make progress without people understanding one another, but stories help us do that.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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