When a gang of publishers clamor for a book and that same book is optioned as a movie — before it’s even finished — you know it’s got to be bomb! That’s exactly what happened with The Hate U Give, its title directly inspired by Tupac’s iconic “THUG LIFE” tatt and his quote, “The hate you give infants…”
Fueled by her feelings following the murder of Oscar Grant, a young, unarmed Black man killed by police in 2010, whose story was told in the film, Fruitvale Station, author Angie Thomas began work on her debut novel. Told from the point of view of 16-year-old Starr Carter, one of just two Black students at her private school, this highly anticipated release centers around the killing of Starr’s best friend Khalil by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Starr, who was in the passenger seat as everything went down, is the sole witness of the shooting. At first, she doesn’t want to say anything, fearing it will put her community and her family at risk, but when Khalil is painted as a thug in the media and even by some of her classmates, she decides to speak out. Witnessing his murder and wrestling with the choice of whether to keep silent or not takes a huge toll on Starr, making her skeptical of her white friends and even her boyfriend, who is also white.
Authentically Black without trying too hard, The Hate U Give illustrates the Black community and the Black family in ways that aren’t often seen in the mainstream. It’s a book that feels at home showing the way Black people interact with each other in private, infusing aspects of African-American Vernacular English and code-switching for a very true-to-life conversational tone. And the characters themselves? All the way real. Instead of cookie-cutter clichés only used as plot devices or place holders, Angie Thomas fills her novel with well-cultivated personas that humanize the people behind the actions and circumstances.
Khalil’s murder, although fictional, is eerily familiar to real life in the way social media involvement, protests, dehumanization, injustice, and even riots are described. While some may be able to read this book in one sitting, others may feel the need to take more time. What happened following Khalil’s murder left me reliving the horror and sorrow I felt after Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, et al. The book, though, tackles the timeline in a way that is realistic but not too somber. Digestible and enjoyable, but also eye-opening.
I teared up. I got angry. I laughed out loud. The Hate U Give tugs at all your emotions and is a read you should not pass up.
This column originally appeared in Sesi’s spring 2017 issue. Subscribe here to get the current issue, on sale now.