Sometimes a book arrives with so much pre-publication hype that you cannot help but be disappointed when you actually read it. Not because the book is bad, necessarily, but because the hype created impossible expectations. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is NOT that book. Impossible expectations have been met, and I cannot overstate the love I give to The Hate U Give as I join the chorus of voices praising this debut novel.
Marketers need labels, and thus The Hate U Give has often been categorized as “the Black Lives Matter” novel. And Thomas does share the story of a community’s grief, fear, frustration, and ultimately rage after another young black man is killed by police and justice remains blind to America’s ugly truths. She shares this story with passion, with compassion, with history, with humanity. That alone would be a book worth reading.
Thomas, however, shows us more. She sews us a new star on the flag of American stories in the form of narrator Starr Carter. Starr is many things: teenage baller, sneakerhead, dutiful daughter working at her father’s store, code switching as she shifts between life at home in Garden Heights and life at her mostly white prep school. Balancing her two worlds like two basketballs spinning on the fingers of two different hands. But the world threatens to spin out of control after Starr watches from the passenger seat as her childhood friend, Khalil, is fatally shot by a white police officer during what should have been a routine traffic stop.
Now Starr adds another link to her identity chain: Witness. Will she bear faithful witness to the life of Khalil, a life from which she had drifted as her own life changed? Will she bear witness to the truths of her Garden Heights community—to her prep school friends, to the legal system, to the media, to herself? Can Starr become what her father named her to be, a light in all this darkness?
The Hate U Give shines not because it is the answer, but because of how well it asks the questions. Thomas has clearly been paying attention: to youth culture, to media culture, to the intersections of class, race, power, and justice. And now attention must be paid to The Hate U Give, a learned disquisition (Oh, you didn’t think a book marketed as “Young Adult” could also be that? Pay attention) written with all the narrative verve of Game 7 of the last NBA championship, with the role of LeBron James being played by Starr Carter.