“The Hate U Give” gives readers truth within fiction

July 12, 2018

Angie Thomas writes a story that needs to be told and retold.

Up-and-coming author Angie Thomas, who was born and raised in Jackson, Miss., writes about police brutality, racism and growing up black in “The Hate U Give,” her debut novel.

The 2017 novel, which spent weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, is told through the perspective of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl living in Garden Heights, a poor neighborhood ridden with gang violence.

“When I was 12, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and bees,” writes Thomas. “The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.”

Thomas, 30, graduated from Belhaven University with a degree in creative writing and still lives in Jackson. She’s a former teen rapper.

At the beginning of the story, Starr seems to have divided herself into two separate worlds. One of her selves is the Garden Heights Starr, who embraces the “hood” parts of her personality and connects deeply with her family and black friends, Kenya and Khalil, also from Garden Heights.

Her other self is her hidden self, the one who attends Williamson, a fancy prep school, with wealthy white kids. The Williamson Starr has two close friends, Maya and Hailey, and a boyfriend named Chris.

Starr’s two selves collide after she witnesses the death of her childhood best friend. The two are driving home from a party one night when a police officer pulls them over, orders Starr’s friend out of the vehicle and then shoots the unarmed black teenager while Starr watches from the passenger seat.

The shooting quickly becomes a national headline. People in Garden Heights are angry and demand justice. Many students at Williamson begin protesting the teenager’s death simply to get out of class, much to Starr’s disgust and disappointment.

When the death gains media attention, Starr is forced to confront her fears of speaking out and her feelings of hopelessness in the judicial system. As she pursues justice for her dead friend, she also is forced to abandon her Williamson self and call attention to the parts of her life she kept hidden from her white friends and boyfriend at Williamson.

“The Hate U Give” is a detailed account of what it’s like to grow up as a black teenager in today’s world, a world that claims love for everyone but reveals hate for black persons every time an unarmed, unharmful black American’s life becomes reduced to a headline.

“It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black,” Thomas writes.

Starr’s life is not an easy one. Though her parents are somewhat affluent and can pay Williamson’s expensive tuition among other amenities many in Garden Heights are unable to afford, Starr commonly witnesses police brutality, drug usage and gang violence. Thomas’ writing details these events in unfiltered sincerity. The novel is not for innocent eyes.

However, Thomas’ depiction of violence, gang involvement and drug usage is not simply to shock readers or merely included for the sake of vulgarity. The world Thomas writes of is reality for many young people similar to Starr, and reading about these scary, cruel experiences in an unfiltered text might be a crucial first step toward unfiltering our own conversations and admitting to our neighbors and ourselves that racism, violence and injustice for black people and other minorities are ceaseless.

Though Thomas’ novel is fictional, the violence depicted is real, and it will not stop until we admit that it’s occurring every day, not just when it makes national headlines.

Thomas’ story is one that needs to be told, retold and retold again until there are no more deaths like the one portrayed so truthfully in the story. Make “The Hate U Give” the next book you read. It’s fast-paced, soul-crushing and yet oddly entertaining, showing readers how humor, goodness and light can be found even when burning in darkness.

And don’t miss the story being retold through film, starring Amandla Stenberg (“The Hunger Games”), Regina Hall (“Girls Trip”) and Issa Rae (“Insecure”). “The Hate U Give” movie, directed by George Tillman Jr. (“Soul Food”), is set to release on Oct. 19.

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