It’s good to be back in my blog happy place writing book reviews, and even better to be writing about this book.
Angie Thomas’s debut novel has received abundant critical praise; it’s held its ground on the New York Times Young Adult bestseller list since it came out in February. And because this is YA and you were wondering, casting for the movie adaptation is already underway.
I’m thrilled to add my thoughts on the book that I hope will be a cultural touchstone that defines this generation of new YA and, more importantly, YA readers.
The Hate U Give adeptly reflects the best of what I’ve seen in young people in the past year. When it came time to show up for marginalized peoples in the U.S., college and high school students took to the streets and the State Houses. Student activism is reflected in mainstream teen publication’s increasing political reportage and journalism for a greater diversity of readers. When asked about the new, more diverse and opinionated direction of Teen Vogue, editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth responded, “We’re a woke brand, and our readers are woke, too.”
My greatest hope for The Hate U Give is that by reflecting today’s resilient youth, it perpetuates resilience in the future.
Starr, the sixteen-year-old narrator of THUG, is involved in a tragedy: She is the sole witness when a white officer shoots her childhood best friend in cold blood. In the weeks that follow, Starr must cope with the social and psychological consequences of having seen Khalil die, unarmed, at the hands of a white officer. What happens when political pundits warp her story? Or when riots break out across town? What does courage mean if speaking out puts the people she loves in danger?
THUG‘s strength lies in its comprehensive, purposeful worldbuilding. That’s right, it’s a YA contemporary, but Starr’s world is all her own. THUG devotes much of over 400 pages to immersing readers in all of the complicated environments that surround and shape Starr: her family, her friends at her majority-white private school, the gangs in her low-income neighborhood. Thomas challenges readers to interrogate internalized stereotypes of neighborhoods like Starr’s and build a nuanced understanding of her world. As a Filipina American and cultural outsider, I found THUG’s worldbuilding powerful and valuable as a carefully drawn window into an experience that is often underrepresented (and misrepresented) in mainstream literature.
Starr’s voice is resonant. (And the gravity of the novel is often punctuated with her wit, like this priceless observation on Taylor Swift songs: “No shade, I fucks with Tay-Tay, but she don’t serve like nineties R&B on the angry-girlfriend scale.” SO TRUE.)
Her voice is complicated by a major theme that THUG addresses – that of Starr’s dual identities. She’s aware of the way that she code-switches between Williamson, the affluent private school she attends, and her low-income, majority-Black neighborhood.
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 reader to call her ghetto.
Starr’s negotiation of her dual registers, especially as she speaks out on more public platforms, acknowledges the advantageousness of one register while honoring her home language. THUG‘s treatment of this theme of language and respectability politics is empowering to any young reader who code-switches by necessity – whether the home-school disparity is related to income-level, parental level of education, race, or relationship to the English language.
A bevy of articles that have covered THUG have mentioned that the book is based on the #BlackLivesMatter movement; I also like to think that THUG will have a more timeless reach, beyond this movement and this moment. I hope that it’s read as a book that centers Black communities and, more broadly, shows marginalized youth the significant role they can play in activism. I hope that it becomes a keystone for a new high school reading canon, a book that will impart youth with a deepened understanding of racial inequality in the United States. I hope it’s the book of this generation of young people.
This is bigger than me and Khalil though. This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us, feels like us, and is experiencing this pain with us despite not knowing me or Khalil. My silence isn’t helping Us.
Brutally honest and fearlessly hopeful, The Hate U Give is a testimony to art’s capacity to give voice to groups who have been systematically silenced. It shatters stereotypes to rebuild understanding anew. It inspires and empowers.
I’m proud to be adding to the actual litany of well-deserved praise that THUG has garnered; I hope that this book reaches readers far and wide, now and generations beyond.
Of course, I don’t always write #ownvoices reviews (that is, I don’t always review narratives that mirror my own cultural experience). So be sure to check out reviews from amazing reviewers who share their #ownvoices perspectives:
- Read this blurb from Morgan at Backlist Babe (@backlistbabe)
- Read this review from Breeny at Breeny’s Books (@BreenysBooks).
- Read this review from Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds).
What did you think about the THUG? Are you following the casting decisions as gleefully as I am?