The Hate U Give is one of the most hyped books of the year, and is being applauded as the book to highlight the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
I was quite hesitant to buy it, because I flicked through it in my local Waterstones and I really didn’t like the writing style. It kept being recommended to me though, so I decided to give it a go.
From the blurb:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood 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.
Starr has been dragged to a party by her half-brother’s half-sister Kenya. She feels like an outsider, because she doesn’t really know any of the other kids. Starr attends Williamson, a fancy school in a predominantly white neighbourhood but still lives in Garden Heights, a poor black neighbourhood . Starr feels isolated from her old friends, but doesn’t fit in at her new school either.
At the party Starr connects with her old friend Khalil; they were very close once, but drifted apart after their friend Natasha was killed in a drive-by shooting and Starr’s parents moved her to the new school. Starr is very upset to find out that Khalil is now dealing drugs. Whilst they’re catching up, shots are fired at the party; Khalil and Starr leave the party, with Khalil driving.
Shortly after leaving the party, the car is stopped by a police officer because of a broken taillight. Khalil is unarmed but the officer shoots him when he reaches back into the car, killing him instantly. Starr is traumatised by what happened, but is scared to speak out because of what her school friends, family, and neighbours will say.
There is a lot of prejudice and hate towards white people in this book almost from the first page. Starr’s dad would not be happy if he knew that she was dating a white boy. Starr’s little brother is picked on and called “white boy” when he plays with neighbourhood kids, because he goes to Williamson. Starr even starts to think that she is being disrespectful to Khalil’s memory by having a white boyfriend. There is an “us versus them” attitude all through the book.
The kids in Starr’s neighbour seem to have been raised with prejudices towards white and black middle class people, known as “Bourgie’s” ; Starr’s dad is a former drug dealer and ex-convict – he’s sorted out his life now and runs a local convenience store, but is still deeply distrustful of the police and authority figures- even though his brother-in-law is a detective! He has drilled it into Starr not to move and to fully comply if she’s ever stopped by the police, and to memorise their badge numbers. This advise is supposed to save her life but she views the police as an enemy, rather than as being on her side. This prejudice affects her whole view and understanding of what takes place on the night of Khalil’s death.
Starr also has problems communicating with people, especially her friends from Williamson. She’s worried that they will judge her for acting too “ghetto”, but doesn’t tell them what’s on her mind, or that she knew Khalil and was with him when he died. When Hailey and Maya go to a protest in support of “Justice for Khalil” they are open that it is purely to get out of school. They don’t understand why Starr is giving them the stank eye. She could really use some lessons from Th1rteen R3asons Why – sit them down, and say “Excuse me, but you really hurt my feelings”. It seems to me that the girls tried to find out what was wrong with Starr, but she completely cut them out, so they gave up on her. It was quick and kind of brutal, but it’s high school and they’re sixteen.
I don’t believe that the police officer was right to shoot Khalil, but I can understand the circumstances that lead to his actions – they had just fled a party where shots were fired, Khalil was being obstructive and mouthing off to the officer, and when the officer turned his back Khalil reached back into the car after being told not to move. These are the facts. I don’t think it is fair to say he was shot “for being black”. It is fair to say that the officer’s investigating the shooting were applying their bias to the event, but Starr has the opportunity to set them straight.
Starr denies knowing Khalil to her friends and boyfriend. She is incensed that he is being reported as a drug dealer in the news – when she knew he was selling drugs and judged him for it! The biggest problem Starr seems to have is that she is unsure about who she is and has no loyalty to her friends, beliefs or principles. I understand that she may be scared, but if something is not right she should speak up about it. Her character infuriated me. Starr’s hero is Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it’s like she ignores everything he stood for. It also struck me that she does the exact same thing the media has done with Khalil to Officer Cruise – she’s demonised him. Starr refers to him as “One-Fifteen”(his badge number) and sees him as this evil, lying man who murdered her friend. I don’t think his father was lying in his statement of support for his son – I think that is how Officer Cruise remembers the incident. If you read back through the section on the shooting, the officer was clearly shaken, terrified and upset about what happened. The way I read the book, both sides were misunderstanding the motives and actions of the other, and I think that makes it even more tragic.
The neighbourhood reaction to the shooting also completely baffled me – they end up having to instil a curfew because people were looting, vandalising and firing guns. Why not have a peaceful protest? Or tweet? Or blog to raise awareness? I’m not religious, but I do believe in karma, and that you get back what you send out into the world – violence begets more violence.
The central message of this book is:
Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.
This is a great message, but it’s undermined by the actions of the protagonist all the way through the book. If The Hate U Give F*cks Everything then Starr has been adding to the problem, particularly in the first half of the book. To be honest, I almost stopped reading about 30% through because it was making me so angry. After this point Starr becomes more likeable, understandable and you get to see more interactions between the family, which helps see things from her viewpoint.
I try to see everything from both sides, but I really wish there was more of an emphasis on the fact that violence and hate are not the answer. Starr does come to this realisation in the book, but it takes a long time and is very subtle. That Starr learns to accept, and be proud, of who she is, thankfully shines through clearly.
I really struggled with this review, and was hesitant to post my opinions due to the nature of the content, but I have to be honest (I’m from Yorkshire) – I just didn’t like the first half of the book.
I didn’t like the writing style, and it just seemed to perpetrate a lot of stereotypes about black and white people. I initially was going to give T.H.U.G. 2/5 stars on Goodreads, but I changed it to 3/5 when I got towards the end, because when Starr stopped worrying about how she should be acting, she was intelligent, compassionate and fierce.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.