Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
This is a story that is happening. Right now. To some extent, it’s happening all over the world. But the focus of The Hate U Give is what’s happening in America, and the violence committed against black people. And while the friends and family of the people killed unlawfully by police officers have been screaming the truth to the world, apart from the protests of Fergusson the mainstream media hasn’t given the issue nearly as much as attention as it should have. And neither have police leaders, and legislators.
The Hate U Give has, the last time I checked, been on the New York Times bestseller list for a year. Possibly longer, by the time this review comes out. So maybe the people who are in a position to influence the structural imbalance of power will start listening. And more importantly, acting.
Beyond the social message, which is important and does need voices, this is a spectacular book. I haven’t read a book with characters this strong in a while – and I read a lot. Racism is, like all prejudice, an issue with complex effects, causes and consequences, and it’s difficult to give it enough space for sufficient consideration in the space of one novel. But this is certainly a very strong treatment. The writing is alive, the characters are passionate, and the setting is brightly, fearfully real.
What Starr is being asked to do is more than a child should ever be asked to have to deal with, but these are the facts of her life. And if I understand correctly, they are inspired by the facts of the author’s life. What we as a society are asking children to do is unconscionable. But the truth is that people don’t act unless they feel compelled to. And we don’t feel compelled unless we feel emotionally invested in the outcome of the act.
Imagine I’m passing you a copy of The Hate U Give. Feel this. Here’s your emotional investment. Now get to work.
Starr, her family and her community are black. Family structure includes half-siblings. One Chinese girl from Starr’s (predominantly white) school. A few characters have varying degrees of trauma.