“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent?”
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.
Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
If there is one novel that you need to read this year, it is this one. This is a five star read and I really do not have anything negative to add as Angie Thomas has delivered a fantastic, realistic and insightful novel and somehow has managed to add an undeniable warmth and wit to make it a well-rounded novel. This is a story about sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed, childhood best friend Khalil Harris by a cop. What follows is Starr’s struggle to decide whether or not to speak up and seek justice for Khalil. Starr soon grows to realise and understand the reality of the #blacklivesmatter movement, how it affects her racial identity as well as those in her community at Garden Heights, and her interpersonal relationships. This is the book on the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, and I urge everyone to pick it up and read it, both readers and non-readers alike.
Angie Thomas wasted no time. We are thrown right in at the deep end within 50 pages. The fatal shooting of Khalil by One-Fifteen (the police officer) is traumatising and as a reader, we are right there with Starr and feel every ounce of emotion she experiences. I was shocked that the murder happened so early on in the book, I wasn’t prepared… but neither was Khalil. And neither were the countless young, black men who’ve lost their lives at the hands of police officers in the US. It was difficult for me to pick it up and resume, but I knew that it was essential that I did.
What baffled and nauseated me was that One-Fifteen had the audacity to weep afterwards when he had processed what he had done. He was worried about the backlash he would receive and less concerned by what he had actually done. Starr weighs the pro’s and cons of speaking up whilst One-Fifteen’s family go on television to defend him. One-Fifteen gives his account – he believed that Khalil was concealing a gun, that Khalil was speaking back and threatening him. In reality, the “gun” was actually a hairbrush and Khalil had simply asked Starr if she was okay. One-Fifteen’s anger and fear of two harmless, sixteen-year-olds were a result of a wild imagination and thus resulted in him murdering an innocent, young, black teen. To support his warped mindset, the media releases inaccurate information concerning Khalil Harris stating that he was a gangbanger and drug dealer (he did, in fact, sell drugs) which leads to many justifying that Khalil deserved to die. As the novel progresses, we find out that Khalil wasn’t affiliated with any gang and he sold drugs to get his mother, a drug addict, out of financial straits. But, so what if he sold drugs? No one deserves to be murdered just because they sell drugs. This is classic deflection of guilt where they flip the script to make black people guilty for the crimes of the police and drug dealing isn’t even relevant to what has happened at all. Ironically, this is also classic narcissistic behaviour. Khalil being a drug dealer was not the cause of his death, One-Fifteen was the cause. A society, judiciary and government that cannot make its law enforcement responsible for their own actions is a terrifying one indeed.
In the process of weighing the pro’s and cons of speaking up, Starr becomes more in touch with her racial identity and her father helps her nurture this connection. Before Khalil was murdered, he told Starr about the true meaning of THUG LIFE which was made popular by Tupac. THUG LIFE means The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone. Starr comes to realise that though slavery has been abolished, systematic violence against black people has not: “Same shit, different century.” Yes, black people in the ghetto sell drugs but why? Because they and their families need to eat, and when there is a lack of opportunities, dealing drugs can sometimes be one of the very few options available to them. It is easier to sell drugs when the system doesn’t favour black people and so the cycle continues. Black people and people of colour, whether white people accept this or not, do have to work a lot harder to reap the same benefits as white people.
Starr possesses two different personalities, the Garden Heights, ghetto Starr and Williamson High Starr where her black identity is filtered with the exception of her dance moves which due to her race makes her automatically “cool.” Or what I like to say, the ghetto aesthetics is appealing but the harsh realities of the ghetto are ignored. This makes it extremely difficult for Starr to open up to her boyfriend Chris who is both white and rich fearing that he cannot comprehend and understand her because of his whiteness. I’ve seen complaints about this on Goodreads where this has been called reverse racism which, to be frank, is not real unlike white fragility which is very much alive and kicking. Eventually, Starr realises that he is perfectly understanding and when he isn’t, he is willing to learn and by the end, he joins the protests. He ends up winning the approval of Starr’s black family and friends, even her father.
Her best friend and young, white, feminist supreme Hailey, on the other hand, does not understand anything at all. I am aware of complaints surrounding the whole Tumblr issue as Hailey unfollowing Starr is pegged to be a silly matter that is not worth being upset over, however, context is key here. Hailey unfollowed Starr on Tumblr because Starr began posting content on racial matters including an unrecognisable photo of Emmett Till. Maya, who is Asian and Starr’s other best friend, tells Starr about the time when Hailey joked about Maya eating dog. *cough – Big Brother UK, are you reading this?* Gradually, Starr begins to stand up against Hailey and realise that she doesn’t need Hailey in her life, not really. Hailey doesn’t apologise for her countless racist and offensive comments such as saying that Khalil was a drug dealer, so he was going to die anyway which resulted in Starr beating her up. Ordinarily, I would preach for non-violence but if you speak nonsense like that, you’re going to get it, you fool. This is where we receive excellent advice from Starr’s wonderful and consistently level-headed mother who notes that if the bad outweighs the good, then that friend is not needed in your life. If the best friend is racist, you’ve gotta throw the whole friend away. In the bin. Lesson for white people: In a world full of Hailey’s, be a Chris.
Starr learns to speak up and use her voice in the moments that matter like this because to be silent, in my opinion, is to be a bystander and a bystander is just as bad as the perpetrator. She finally gives her account on a TV interview with her face hidden, then at the Grand Jury and finally at the end, for a news channel with her face appearing on camera. Angie Thomas chose to depict reality and therefore, One-Fifteen is let off for murdering an innocent, unarmed, black teen. And I’d rather we didn’t pretend that this isn’t what is happening.
Starr and Angie Thomas urge us all to keep fighting. It’s a strange thing, if you want peace, you have to speak up, there wasn’t peace to begin with anyway so what exactly are you preserving? But speaking up? That can bring change and lead to true peace and not the artificial one that you were hopelessly trying to cling to. Change has never happened by sweeping issues under the rug. It took hundreds of years to abolish slavery, it took 70 years for women to have the right to vote, it took hundreds of years before the British Empire came to an end and it is terrifying that such basic human rights should take centuries to be granted… but new days are coming. They might not come overnight, tomorrow, next month, next year, it might take years, decades or perhaps even a century but it will come eventually because we will be protesting, we will be speaking up and we will put our voices to good use.
The world of YA had begun to look very bleak for me until I finally read this book and thanks to Suziey @ Of All the Books in All the Libraries for encouraging me to read it because I would have postponed it to read until next year like a moron. My sister who is in school doesn’t enjoy reading books, but I recommended this novel because it is one of the most relevant books of this decade and a must read for everyone. Tip: gift this to white feminists and to people who say “All Lives Matter.”
What are your thoughts on The Hate U Give and your opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement? Let me know in the comments!
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By Sophia Ismaa