"The Hate U Give" Book Review
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Young Adult
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is so good, I thought I’d have trouble finding enough words for this review. I guess I was wrong. I could have written more if it wouldn’t have turned into a fangirling/rambling session. This book definitely has a political standpoint. By the synopsis alone, that’s clear. But no matter what you believe—democrat, republican, liberal, etc.—read this novel. You can’t ignore the fact that it has made a social change, moved the world of literature, and stood out within the YA genre as a New York Times bestseller for 70+ weeks now, because the book is well done. Which is why, for this review, I am going to stray as far as I can from tying in my political standpoint. This blog isn’t for critiquing whether a belief is right or wrong. It’s for critiquing the merits of a novel. I loved The Hate U Give so much, I found myself forgetting to read with the lens of a critic and lost myself behind the lens of a reader. It’s been a while since I’ve been tempted to pull an all-nighter for a book. I almost did for this one. So, let me tell you about the story and why it’s worth your time.
The Hate U Give, simply put, is about a black girl named Starr who witnesses her unarmed friend shot by a white cop. With the chance to put the cop behind bars, Starr finds herself struggling with whether to speak out against him, risking the safety of her family and herself, or to stay silent to keep her loved ones safe, sacrificing the social justice she longs for.
Do you see how culturally relevant this book is today? If you have read the news, even just scrolled through Facebook, this issue has been heavily protested, and this is clear through literature too. What is great about The Hate U Give is that Thomas is unafraid on speaking out on this issue, meaning her character is unafraid; henceforth, she’s believable. With the topic of this book, I wouldn’t believe in a character who wasn’t incredibly moved, changed, and driven by her circumstances.
Although Starr struggles with what to do, it’s clear how she feels, and it’s not sugarcoated. For this reason, there’s a closeness with the character. She’s like a friend, because I hear every thought in her head and every emotion is expressed to the deepest extent. In fact, the prose reads like she is writing letters to a friend or being interviewed by a confidant. Very real and speech-like text.
In regard to prose, you’ll notice that the dialogue and text (1st person), is written differently than if the novel was written by a white author. This book is very straightforward how cultures speak and interact in different ways, which is also made clear with Garden Heights Starr vs. Williamson Starr. While Garden Heights Starr is unafraid to be herself, Williamson Starr puts on a new face, new voice, and new act to fit her environment, to avoid being called ghetto. Thomas uses that distinction, those two Starrs, to show the fear that Starr and the other characters face and to show how these specific people act and react in certain situations.
Thomas never needs to explain that Starr is afraid of cops. That’s made clear by the physical and emotional responses Starr has as well as with how her social choices change to fit the situation, to fit her terror. She also never needs to explain how Starr lives in an area and environment that would have most of us terrified. That is shown with how casual Starr’s tone and conversations are when she talks about or confronts situations such as shootings.
Side note for writers: Publishers tend to be touchy about a white author who writes from the POV of a black protagonist in their novel. I almost did that for a novel of my own, until I spoke to authors, publishers, and agents and heard their feedback on that choice. There’s elements and understandings of a different culture that may not be fully known by an author of a different race. So, if you do make that choice, make sure you read books by authors of that race and have people of that race read your draft. You don’t want to offend anyone.
Thomas is also very good with keeping her descriptions short yet vivid. I don’t need many words from her to know what a scene looks like or to understand what characters are feeling. Thomas’s use of 1st person POV and Starr’s voice does that. They drive the prose and make it the most effective it can be. As a writer, the less words you use to describe, the more concise and clear your scene will be.
One scene in particular, as an example, that does this well is the death of Starr’s friend, Khalil, at the hands of the cop. Although the scene is quick, it’s moving because of the prose and internal reactions that Thomas chooses to express on the pages. I’d paste that excerpt here, but I want you to experience that moment yourself. This book evokes so much damn emotion with so little words.
Enough about prose, though (as good as they are). When it comes to plot, that moves as naturally as Starr’s voice. It feels very natural and genuine. It’s not all action and grief all the time. We get to see normal moments of Starr’s life too, which creates breaks that make her journey more believable pacing wise. But, despite those breaks of normality, Thomas still achieves a traditional story arc. It just isn’t so in your face with this book, which is good!
My only note is that—and I feel like a monster for saying it—Starr cries a little bit too often. This situation is hard. It would be for anyone. I’d probably cry a lot too, but with the amount of times it happened, I was sometimes pulled out of the moment of a scene, out of the emotion and strength that was being shown through her words and actions. And I suppose it eventually happened so many times, just thrown in, that it wasn’t as impactful.
But since that note is so trivial and doesn’t truly affect the quality of this novel, I still give it a 5/5. Hell, I’d give it a higher rating if I could. Please, PLEASE read this book. And, Angie Thomas? You are a writing goddess. Till next time, Nooksters!
“This will sound mean, but just because Khalil’s not living doesn’t mean you stop living.” (70)
Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.
I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway. (71)
I hope none of them ask about my spring break. They went to Taipei, the Bahamas, Harry Potter World. I stayed in the hood and saw a cop kill my friend. (77)
Once you’ve seen how broken someone is it’s like seeing them naked—you can’t look at them the same anymore. (83)
Ms. Brenda moves her hands. Her red eyes remind me of what Khalil said when we were little, that his momma had turned into a dragon. He claimed that one day he’d become a knight and turn her back. (90)
Her words used to have power. If she said it was fine, it was fine. But after you’ve held two people as they took their last breaths, words like that don’t mean shit anymore. (165)
Daddy watches whatever she’s doing on the computer, feeding her a grape every time he eats one. She’s probably uploading the latest family snapshots on Facebook for our out-of-town relatives. With everything that’s going on, what can she say? “Sekani saw cops harass his daddy, but he’s doing so well in school. #ProudMom.” Or, “Starr saw her best friend die, keep her in your prayers, but my baby made honor roll again. #Blessed.” Or even, “Tanks are rolling by outside, but Seven’s been accepted into six colleges so far. #HeIsGoingPlaces.” (204)
Seven and I said we were Slytherins since almost all Slytherins are rich. When you’re a kid in a one-bedroom in the projects, rich is the best thing anybody can be. (207)
Tonight, they shot me too, more than once, and killed a part of me. Unfortunately for them, it’s the part that felt any hesitation about speaking out. (247)
“No, and you’re forbidden to get one. No parents allowed. You guys already took over Facebook.”
“You haven’t responded to my friend request yet.”
“I need Candy Crush lives.”
“That’s why I’ll never respond.” (263)
Ms. Ofrah once said that this is how I fight, with my voice.
So I fight. (287)
But Ms. Ofrah says this interview is the way I fight. When you fight, you put yourself out there, not caring who you hurt or if you’ll get hurt.
So I throw one more blow, right at One-Fifteen.
“I’d ask him if he wished he shot me too.” (290)
Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug. (442)