Friday, June 02, 2017

Teen/YA Review: The Hate U Give

Like most book lovers who read YA literature, I have been hearing nothing but rave reviews of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas since its release in February. I had a chance to listen to it on audio last month, and I found out that everything I’d heard was true. The Hate U Give is an original, powerful, moving novel that should be required reading/listening for every American. Not only that, but it is also a stunning, compelling story that I finished in record time.

Sixteen-year old Starr is happy with her family and friends, though she feels like she is living two different lives in two different worlds. Starr lives in a poor urban neighborhood that is filled with gang violence. Her own father used to be the head of one of the local gangs, The Kings, but he left that life behind when Starr and her two brothers were born. Now, he runs the neighborhood grocery store, where Starr often works. Starr’s mother works as a nurse in a local clinic.

On weekdays, though, Starr’s parents make the long commute to take her and her brothers to a private college prep school in the suburbs, where they attend thanks to scholarships and their parents’ hard work and diligence. Starr is one of only two black kids in her entire class, and though everyone asks why she doesn’t go out with the black boy, she is happily dating Chris, a white classmate (though her Dad doesn’t know that). She has good friends both at home and in school.

Starr’s happy though divided life is shattered one evening when her childhood friend, Khalil, is driving her home from a party. Neither of them had been drinking, and they left the party because they heard gunshots. Khalil is trying to make sure Starr gets home safely, but they are pulled over by a police officer. In a flash, Starr’s world is turned upside down when unarmed Khalil is shot by the white officer, and he dies in front of her.

Devastated at the loss of her oldest friend (Starr already lost a best friend to a drive-by shooting when she was just 10 years old), Starr is even more shattered by all that happens next. The news media are saying that Khalil was a drug dealer and a gang-banger. The police don’t seem all that interested in Starr’s eyewitness account of what really happened. The police officer’s father goes on TV and garners sympathy for his son. To make everything so much worse, Starr’s white friends at school really don’t seem to get it. As the sole witness to what happened that night, it’s up to Starr to speak up, but she is worried about what will happen to her family and her community.

As you can see from this brief recap, this novel is “ripped from the headlines” and echoes some of the shootings that have occurred in communities all over America in recent years. What’s different is that this fictional story gives you a complete account, a sort of behind the scenes peek, of the events from the people who we rarely hear from first-hand. It is not just about the shooting itself and its repercussions (from all sides – Starr’s uncle is a police officer) but also about the impact of these events on Starr, her family, her friends, and their community. This novel highlights the disconnect between the way that different people from different backgrounds see an incident like this shooting.

It’s more than that, though. This is also simply a good story, well told. Starr is a very likeable narrator, with a complex life, yes, but also the life of a normal teenager. She texts her friends, meets her boyfriend at her locker, and loves old episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and old-school sneakers. The rest of the characters – her friends, her family, her neighbors – are all well fleshed-out. They feel three-dimensional and real. Thomas is an excellent writer who pulls you right into the story from its very first pages. There is plenty of suspense, wondering what will happen and how Starr will cope, and even a sense of humor. The audio production was perfect. Hearing the story told in Starr’s voice from the talented narrator made it all the more compelling, and I felt like I knew her family and friends.

Although this novel is a good read, it’s also a very, very important story to tell. It’s not only fascinating to see behind the scenes of an incident like this that we hear about so often in the news, but these are also voices that we seldom hear represented on the news. In addition to the shooting, there are issues of gang violence, drug dealing, and the very real conflict between Starr’s parents about whether to stay in the neighborhood and help make it better or leave so that their kids will be safer. I certainly had never thought about that before; I think most of us just assume that people in the ghetto are stuck in the ghetto. This novel shows the whole of this urban neighborhood – not just the gang members and drug dealers we might hear about on the news but the elderly, the children, and the way that neighbors take care of each other. Finally, Starr puts a very personal face on racial divides, straddling the “poor black world” and the “wealthy white world,” as she does.

This is already a long review, but I want to convey how deeply this novel moved me and how much it made me think. It’s an important story about racial tensions in our world today, a story that puts a face on the Black Lives Matter movement for those of us who don’t face these issues every day. And it’s also an excellent YA novel, about a likeable character facing challenges that no teen should have to face, about friendship, and especially about family. The Hate U Give is a powerful and engrossing novel that I hope will become required reading for high school students.

(you can listen to an audio sample at the Audible/Amazon link below)

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

The Hate U Give
by Angie PetersHardcover

Purchase The Hate U Give from The Book Depository.


  1. Oh, I am glad you liked this book so much! I just think it is excellent on many levels and will probably show up on award lists for 2017.

    1. I hope it wins LOTS of awards - it deserves them!