Synopsis: ‘My parents didn’t raise me to fear the police, just to be smart around them. They told me it’s not smart to move whilst a cop has his back to you.
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer.
Author: Angie Thomas
I found this book in Waterstones. It’s one of their ‘Everyone Is Talking About’ books, featured prominently in their window display. I’ve made it my goal to read as many books as I can, regardless of genre, the cover, or the synopsis and so I did a large Waterstones haul, which included picking up The Hate U Give.
I was particularly intrigued by this book as it has been influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been gaining prominence, in particular over the last few years. I feel like every other time I read or watch a news story that it features an incident of police brutality. We even hear about it all the way across the pond from America. The author herself had witnessed a shootout at the age of six which partly influenced her to write this book. Part of the reason I picked this book up is due to it having been inspired by real world events. There is an authenticity about it and I felt as though I could picture the events unfolding before my very eyes with every sentence.
The story is centred around Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl, who witnesses the death of her friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer and the subsequent battles she faces in deciding whether to speak out as the sole witness. Starr was a character that I fell in love with while reading this book. She is strong, resilient, and inspirational. When you witness something as horrific as she does, it can turn you into a victim, but Starr does the complete opposite. She is not a victim, she is a survivor. There is something about Starr as a character, as the narrator, that compels you to read on and to root for her.
I absolutely loved her family. Starr has a mother, a father, an older brother from the same father, and a younger brother from the same mother and father. She is friends with her half-brother’s sister. She has an uncle who is a cop, who also acted as a surrogate father to her whilst her own dad was in jail, an aunt, grandmother, and cousins. It was refreshing to see such a modern family. Real life isn’t entirely made up of two parent households with three kids, a dog, and a white picket fence. Families come in all sizes and all forms and each one is as valid as the next. The character arc her dad, Big Mav, goes through, in particular at the end, warmed my heart. It showed that the way you think about a person isn’t who they really are. People can surprise you. People can change.
One aspect of this book that I did enjoy was the brutally honest account of what life is like in a black community. While I know this is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario as it’s not the same situation and experience for everyone, it was eye opening to read what can – and does – occur in some communities. Angie Thomas has decided to tackle extremely sensitive and important topics for her debut novel but has not shied away from a realistic experience. Black people are not being portrayed as perfect and saintly within the pages of this book; there are drugs, violence, and gang wars. The fact that these occur in their neighbourhood of Garden Heights should not influence the media in deciding whether the victim deserved it or not, as is the case with Khalil. It is truly heartbreaking to read how those who knew Khalil have to hear the media spin lies about him and his life in order to justify his death. It begs the question: how many victims of violence have been portrayed accurately in the media?
While many people will see this book as being about police brutality and racism, which are running themes in the book, the real story goes much deeper than that. It’s a story about using your voice, that your voice is your greatest weapon, which is something everyone needs to recognise. If we don’t speak out about the issues that are important to us, that affect us deeply, then who will? We always wait for that one person to make a stand but that one person can be you. It should be you. This book shows that people will oppose you and try to shut you down but you should stand up, you should rise up, and you should shout from the rooftops (or on top of a car) about the what is important to you as loud as you can, regardless of who hears you or not. All it takes is one spark to start a blaze. Throughout the last few chapters of the book, Starr embodies this quote for me: ‘Start with where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ Even a sixteen-year-old from Garden Heights can make a difference.