Book review for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
(Balzer + Bray, February 28, 2017)
Black, white, or brown—read this because it’s a fantastic book. It’s a compelling story with wonderful, fully-developed characters and a page-turning narrative. Protagonist 16-year-old Starr is easy to care about and root for, even in the midst of her fear and indecision, and her self-perceived cowardice. She straddles life between her low-income black neighborhood and her mostly-white choice-in suburban high school. Unidentified witness to the murder of her friend, Starr has a life-altering decision to make that will define who she is for the rest of her life.
Her family and [most of her] friends are a delight; her family provides laugh-out-loud moments (like praying to Black Jesus) as they navigate the same issues every other household experiences; her white friends provide perfect examples of how to both mitigate and exacerbate racial tension. This treat of a novel gives a perfect gaze into the lives of African Americans simply trying to live day by day with dignity and integrity, and who face racial discrimination and the fears of growing up among gun fire, gangs, and racial profiling and oppression. And most timely, it illustrates the very real, pressing crisis coming to light in new, horrific details as every month (or week!) new names are added to the list of publicly known real-life unarmed black people shot at the hands of police officers.
Most importantly, The Hate U Give should be required reading for every white person in America. But the assignment shouldn’t be approached grudgingly; one should read it because he or she wants to better understand the culture of, the world of, the challenges that the African American individual and community cope with that may be unfamiliar, particularly in these times of racial tension, protest, and demand for justice. Especially in this time of the ubiquitous cell phone camera when we see like never before the reoccurring shooting of unarmed black fellow Americans.
White people: (and don’t stop reading because I just addressed you like that, please! I dare you to keep going…) if you aren’t already a part of the protests for racial justice or if you don’t already understand systemic racial inequality and oppression exist, go into this reading experience with purposeful intent to learn, to grow, to discover. So many of my [older white] peeps quickly go to their long-held, easy answers to dismiss or dispute the idea of racial inequality or systemic oppression. I wish they’d all read this and do so with an open mind, with the desire to learn something. Actually, I don’t think I can ever convince all my peeps to read The Hate U Give. But YOU can convince yourself to give this an honest try, to open your mind and go in not letting preconceived ideas shut down the conversation before it even begins. Let this story teach you, let it introduce you to something new, if only a beginning point. Be aware the dialogue includes “cuss words” (that Starr’s little brother will demand a dollar for every time he hears them), and you’ll probably read unfamiliar dialect (keep your Urban Dictionary tab open on your phone, so you can look up “swirling” for example), and you’ll most likely be exposed to a new culture, but just go with it. See the people behind the differences. Love the hearts that are portrayed. Cheer on the characters as they face adversity. Evolve into a more loving, accepting human being yourself. We all have room to grow like that.
Last summer, my husband and I had a beautiful ’98 Cadillac to sell. A 20-year-old buyer found us, but he needed help financing the purchase. He’d just gotten a new job and needed a way to get there, so he could earn the money to pay for the car, to keep going to the job, to earn the money… you get the idea. We’d never done anything like this before, floating a loan to a perfect stranger, but we thought, “Hey, let’s put our money where our mouth is and push back against inequality.” This young man happened to be African American and the son of immigrants from Ethiopia. We did the deal and he drove away with our car with the promise of returning each Friday with a payment. (Within the first week, he was pulled over THREE times by cops suspecting he’d stolen the car. I was appalled. I told him I was so sorry that had happened. He shrugged and said, “Eh…” because HE wasn’t surprised. He said that was normal. It was expected. It was okay. But no! It was NOT okay! He let my husband and me into his world for a glimpse of the systemic racism he faces every dang day.) Three months later, he paid off the full amount, and we shook hands a final time as new friends and with joy in our hearts. (Since then, he got two job promotions and a transfer to an even better job in Minneapolis—the last we talked happened to be right when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. What significant timing!) We benefited so much from our contact with him. We got to cross boundaries into a culture we wouldn’t normally get to visit: Nahom listened to different music from ours (and much louder :), he wore different clothes and wore them differently than we do, he had different interests and styles and priorities, his piercing and tats were something we’ll probably never have—but is was pure privilege to get to know this young man. He showed us how we’re more alike than different. We’re all in this together. The Hate U Give is a perfect follow-up of discovery for white folks like us.
Adapted for film, The Hate U Give, released October, 2018, and is available for streaming on limited platforms and for purchase on DVD.
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Life with Quadruplets
As a mother of quadruplets, I've had plenty of crazy experiences raising "supertwins." I blog a lot of memories about my kids. Sometimes just my thoughts on things. I get those sometimes—when my brain works. Which is about one third of the time.