I think I may have just read the Young Adult book of 2017. ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas is arguably essential reading for anyone, but especially if looking for a something that spells out why ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Starr is 16 and lives in the Ghetto, but also goes to a mainly white ‘good’ school in the suburbs. Her 2 lives are kept mostly seperate until she and lifelong friend Khalil are pulled over by a white police officer who then shoots Khalil. The book goes on to explore the tensions within Starr’s own identity, her family life, the reaction of the poor and black community where she lives and the affluent white school she attends.
On one hand, it’s a tragic but uncomplicated event. Even making excuses for the police officer, the event is simply that an innocent boy is mistakenly shot by a police officer misreading the boy’s actions. In reality the impact is incredibly complex, and Thomas’ book captures this wonderfully. The police force covers up for the officer. Media reports the event using coded language, and the local community & wider society react accordingly. Starr is traumatised and caught between her conflicting identities, causing her to confront the good and bad of how she presents herself.
Angie Thomas has created a beautiful and authentic voice in Starr Carter. I was on the verge of tears for large parts of the novel. Large parts are intense, hooking you into Starr’s world the way only a good book can. At other times I was laughing freely or swaying from anger to dismay. This book grabs hold of your emotions early on and gives them a good seeing to.
Anyone that pays even a cursory attention to news in America over the last few months can’t help but be aware of the number of cases where black people, including minors or children, have been shot by police officers. None of which appear to have to answer for their actions, or where investigations have happened, have not been found to have acted either illegally or even disproportionaly. Many of these events have led to protests and the growth of the tagline Black Lives Matter.
On a personal level, when I read such reports, my reactions are normally shock, sadness, anger and disbelief. When you read the reports, or watch videos, it seems impossible to not at least have sympathy for the victim’s familes, and empathy with the anger of the communities they come from. I fail to understand anyone (or the news outlets) that tries to justify, what are on the face of things, unjustifiable actions.
Where THUG works for me, is to personalise why the Black Live Matter movement is important. Empathy will only get you so far. This book gives a great insight into the feelings that are happening. The loss felt, and the helplessness or frustration that follows. There is a scene where Starr’s dad is stopped and humilated by police that must provoke a reaction from every reader.
If the reaction you find yourself having after reading this book, is that Khalil deserved what he got, or still along the lines of ‘if black people just did what they police said?’, or ‘why do communities loot neighbourhoods?’ then chances are you’ll never change from that perspective unless personally experiencing it. No doubt there will be plenty of people that just don’t get this book, or the feelings it is trying to portray. They might try attach some meaning that’s not there. Maybe use the references to Tupac and ThugLife to paint an alternative narrative. I feel sorry for those people.
YA often does big issues. When it does it well…eg 13 Reason Why, Asking For it, Nothing Tastes as Good, The Art of Being Normal, it is reason to celebrate and a great excuse to badger every young person (and adult) to get the book and think hard about the message.
The Life U Give has already recieved a lot of attention and will no doubt become a movie and hopefully become as big a sensation as other YA works like The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. For those that like to be ahead of the curve, I recommend getting on this one now before it gets huge – because it will.