Angie Thomas, in The Hate U Give, wrote a novel that can serve as an entry point for adolescents and adults to understand the systemic issues facing people of color in the US. Her novel is the story of one group of individuals in one moment in time, but it is also the story of far too many in multiple, on-going moments in time. At the same time as the novel takes on the big issues of systemic racism, it also tackles the story of a girl who is negotiating living in two worlds, trying to find her own voice, and live her life authentically.
The power of The Hate U Give lies in the characterization of Starr Carter and her family, friends, and those she interacts with. From the micro-aggressions dished out by those blinded to their own white privilege, to the anonymous but all-too-familiar face of her oppressor (for much of the novel only known by his badge number), to her ex-felon, ex-gang member father who wants to help his community, but also do right by his children and protect them, Thomas’ characters are universal to a larger problem of racism yet never fall into stereotypes. Each is written as an individual yet they are typical of the world Thomas writes about.
The voice of those characters, from main to bit characters, are unique and again, carry the hallmarks of urban black communities across the US while never dipping into overdone or stereotypes. Starr, the narrator is a memorable voice and has earned a place amongst the pantheon of teen narrators. Through Starrs eyes, ears, and thoughts, the audience sees her two worlds, the underserved community she lives in and the privileged prep school she attends. Starr’s gravity pulls her two worlds closer until they collide, threatening everything she knows and loves.
The tone of The Hate U Give shifts from light and humorous, to frightening and dark, and back again at the speed of a teenager’s mood. Pain and hope, lightness and darkness, pride and shame, anger and love, safety and discomfort play out on the pages — sometimes in dizzying succession — and the success of this novel rides on a magical balance of the two that Thomas pulls off without leaving the reader feeling short-changed.
Perhaps the greatest feat of Thomas, however, is providing both a story that many frequently left out of stories or minimized can see themselves in and a gateway into a world many know little of besides what they are told by news media, schools, churches, and by a society run by a privileged group of white men. Thomas, by telling one young woman’s story, tells a much larger story without didactic language, without the buzzwords of the day, without shaming or blaming readers.
Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird, spoke to generations about racism but is the voice of someone who benefits from that very racism. Starr is a voice for today — one who faces the consequences of systemic racism still in full operation in the US rather than simply witnessing it. Like Harper Lee’s classic, Thomas’ The Hate U Give should be on every school’s required reading list.