Starr and Khalil grew up together in Garden Heights, but they’d grown apart these last few years. When they met again at a party and some trouble started up, Khalil offered to drive Starr home before the police arrived. It wasn’t long before Khalil was pulled over for no apparent reason, and Starr found herself crying over his dead body while the cop held his gun on her until reinforcements arrived.
This was the second friend who had been shot in front of Starr, and she was only sixteen years old. In spite of the danger from one of the gang lords, she decided to give evidence in the case, but she hid the truth from her private school friends and even her white boyfriend. Starr’s life had already been complicated. Her father was a store owner and her mom was a nurse, but her father had served time in prison for drug dealing. In the meantime, her uncle was a cop and his wife was a surgeon. They lived in a big house in the suburbs. While Starr and her half-brother played basketball in the neighborhood under the watchful eye of one of the rival gangs, she traveled every day to a school where she was the only black girl in a very white world. Witnessing Khalil’s murder forced her to reexamine her everyday realities, her hopes and dreams, and her loves and loyalties.
It has been said that the Civil War was sparked by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. All of the elements were there for years before, but slavery was an intellectual question for most people in the north, and it didn’t touch their lives. Fiction has a magically insidious way of bypassing academic arguments and touching the soul. If you are a middle-class white person, as I am, we can read about racism in America, and we may even see Black Lives Matter protests on television, but then we can say, “Oh, dear! How terrible!” and turn off the TV. We don’t know what to think, and it happens far away (usually), and we just want them to stop so that we can all live peacefully. In a novel, we get a chance to live someone else’s life and to see through their eyes, and all of their experiences happen to us. We feel their sorrows and frustrations because we become them for a time.
I have had the advance reader copy of The Hate U Give for some months, but I knew it would be a gritty, emotional read, so I just kept it in the pile on my nighttable. It’s a debut novel, so when I bought it for our library system, I ordered the standard amount. Then people started to read it, and I’ve reordered twice. The holds continue to climb because everyone is talking about this amazing young writer and her complex, harrowing, yet triumphant story of personal growth and social justice. Fair warning that the language is realistically profane all the way through, so it may only be appropriate for older teens and adults.
Become Starr for a while. She has no easy answers, but she’s holding fast to the truth.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this novel, which was published in February. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.