Book Club: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

thehateugiveAbout The Hate U Give

• Book Club: May 2017 
• Hardcover: 
453 pages
• Published: February 2017 by Balzer & Bray
• Source: Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionSixteen-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.

Why We Picked It

It’s relevant, it’s timely, it’s YA (our May theme), and it’s one of the most talked about books of the year already. And because our Book Club is in-the-know, you know?

My Thoughts

I’m always hesitant to review culturally relevant books, because unless I give them a 5-star rating, inevitably someone gives me the “how do you not think this is the most amazing book ever” reaction. And I get that, I really do – there are books that are well-regarded and well-loved not because they’re necessarily well-written, but because they deal with a theme that’s important or timely or taboo. And the other side of that is true as well – there are books that are loved because they’re well-written, but deal with robots and love triangles and neon-green puppies. In a way, that’s the beauty of books. Reading is a personal experience, and what speaks to one reader may or may not speak to another. Things that drive me crazy will no doubt seem inconsequential to some of you (and vice versa).

With all that said, I’d had several people recommend The Hate U Give as being an excellent book for our times. If you’ve had your ear even just a little bit to the book world, you’ve no doubt heard of it, and heard how wonderful it is. When one of the Book Club girls suggested it for our YA theme, I was more than happy to read it – not because it was something I was particularly interested in, but because I saw the value in reading it.

The Hate U Give is about Starr, a 16-year-old girl who witnesses her childhood friend Khalil being pulled over and eventually shot by a police officer. The book focuses on Starr’s reaction to the situation, as well as the community’s – both black and white. We follow Starr to school, read about her conflicting emotions as she balances her life at home in Garden Heights with the life she’s created at her mostly-white prep school. We watch her family deal with the ever-growing gang presence, compounded by the fact that Garden Heights simply does not have the opportunities more affluent neighborhoods do. And we watch as both sides come to terms with the issues surrounding the question of race and equality.

And here’s where I have to be honest. I didn’t hate The Hate U Give, but I didn’t love it either. I absolutely understand why it’s gotten so much press, and I’m glad for that. But as a book, taken purely on the content and style and form? It lacks so much.

I questioned Starr’s credibility right from the beginning, because her emotions and reactions and thoughts are so inconsistent. One second she’s afraid to speak, the next, she’s telling all who will listen. She talks about loyalty and family and love, and then denies any relation or connection to that very same family. For the majority of the story, she lets other people make decisions for her, seemingly content to be lost in the background.

Before you point out that she’s 16 years old, yes, she is. And yes, she’s just been involved in a horrible, traumatic event, and yes, the world she lives in is vastly different from mine. The issue isn’t so much that she’s not a strong character – it’s that she’s portrayed as one, and written as another.  I was never able to truly care about her, and with a storyline like this one, it’s critical to care about your character.

It’s also entirely too long. I could have lost about 200 pages and still gotten the gist of the story.

Book Club Discussion

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your point of view), we all had similar reactions to the book. None of us hated it, but all of us felt the author missed out on a golden opportunity to really inspire change. The issues raised in The Hate U Give are incredibly important, but unless someone has absolutely no grasp of recent events, they’re issues most of us are already aware exist. In that regard, the book felt a little like a “rage against the machine” kind of approach, though I don’t mean that to say that it’s full of angst and hate. In fact, quite the opposite, as the themes of family and community are actually quite admirable. Simply, had Thomas been able to include solutions, or even attempts at reconciling the issues – or at the very least, beginning to address them – it could have been incredibly valuable in changing the current dialogue. (I realize that’s easier said than done; however, it’s not always enough to simply highlight an issue.)

We talked at length about that, and about how we’d wished we had someone who either disagreed with us or had had a different upbringing. As white, middle-class, college-educated young women, it was incredibly difficult to imagine a world like Starr’s.

Bottom line? The Hate U Give is an important – if not entirely engrossing – read that makes for great discussion. It doesn’t shy away from the truth, but doesn’t assault you with it either. My hope is that as people read it, they begin to recognize some of the more deeply rooted issues in our society, and begin thinking of ways to look at the world a little differently.

June’s Book Club Theme: In a Land Far, Far Away…

June’s Book Club Book: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald