[This post is the first in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]
Over halfway through Angie Thomas‘s debut novel, these words – spoken by the main character’s mother – rip through readers as we witness her growth and the love of her family:
“‘Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr,’ she says. ‘It means that you go on even though you’re scared. And you’re doing that.'”
The Hate U Give is a haunting story that centers around sixteen-year-old black high school student Starr Carter. Already struggling to balance a double life between a rich, primarily-white private school and a poor, gang-afflicted neighborhood, Starr’s life is only tougher after she witnesses the murder of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a white police officer. Facing the trauma of Khalil’s death, the miles of red tape of the judicial system, the idiocy of privileged high school students, and the harsh realities of gang violence, Starr is an indisputably remarkable character. And what’s more, she’s written honestly by a bold new author, who – excuse the cliché here – says exactly what needs to be said year after year in America.
What really pulls readers into The Hate U Give is Thomas’s memorable characters. The entire novel is told through Starr’s perspective, so it’s easiest to witness her growth from a timid, quiet teen to a well-informed and well-spoken activist. We get honest glimpses into her past, as well, witnessing both the pain and love of her past side-by-side. Maybe some will say it’s “too real” for young audiences, but I think what Thomas understands is that, in YA, “too real” is exactly what we need. It’s how we’re able to percieve Starr’s growth, which comes together in an older, wiser, and stronger character that we find ourselves extremely proud of.
Thomas’s writing is, at its heart, powerful. It gives us a close-up perspective of a world many teens and children live in now: its violence, cruelty, love, and eventually, its unity. At the end of the novel, we fully understand alongside Starr that these things must exist together, and we must find a place within them. It’s a novel I’m thankful to have experienced.
And remember, this is Thomas’s very first novel. Keeping a title at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks is no small achievement, and with a premier novel? I think I speak for all devoted YA readers when I say that we can’t wait for the next title she puts out. As it continues to make huge ripples in the literary scene, The Hate U Give proves to be a novel every teen, parent, poor college student – every person needs to read immediately. It’s an excellent catalyst for discussion, for mingling experiences and identities together, and for insight into the very real problems of police brutality, gang violence, and poverty.
Please read it. You won’t regret it.