Book Review – The Hate U Give: The Most Important Novel of 2017?
The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas is an uncommon example of the mainstream success that stories which feature and are written by people of color can gain. As Thomas’s debut novel, her status as an author has already elevated her career beyond anything she has ever expected. On December 5th, 2017 the book earned two Goodreads Choice Awards—selected by fellow members of the Goodreads community—something that does not happen often, and currently has a stellar, rare 4.6 rating on the site. At times Thomas even feels as though her success is nothing more than a vivid dream. How has this novel become such a powerful piece of work so quickly?
Let me be honest right now: outside of the glowing reviews, I only bought the book because I thought the cover looked nice (and it does). What grabbed me was that the protagonist of the story was a black, dark-skinned girl with nappy hair. What was there not to love? As a fantasy lover, I was hesitant about reading this YA contemporary novel. Not even the political/social platforms about racism and police brutality drove me to read THUG…
Completing the book was one of the greatest decisions I made over the summer.
So, what’s the book about? Meet Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl who attends a fancy, rigorous, expensive, white-majority private school. But, plot twist, homegirl, lives in the hood! One night, while driving home with her best friend (and, maybe, *nudge nudge* childhood crush) Khalil, the pair is pulled over by the police. In a series of unfortunate events, police brutality takes its unfortunate toll and the life of a young boy. The book chronicles the events that take place afterward and Starr’s decision to stand up for everyone else involved in similar tragedies.
This premise sounds very similar to the narrative purported by supporters of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Well, Thomas intended to write the book based on the issues that the movement stood for. BLM was the not the only source of inspiration for the book’s concept.
The career and iconography of the late rapper Tupac Shakur were the basis of this novel. The title is even a reference to Shakur’s famous catchphrase “Thug Life.” I actually learned a lot about the rapper from just reading the book, therefore I will abstain from fully explaining the connections between THUG and Tupac. To keep things concise, the overall message of the book is that the way society treats a person, particularly a child, determines how they will play a part in that same society as later in life. In other words, if you tell children (or, as Tupac put it, “little infants”) that they are violent, unproductive peons, that is likely how they will views themselves and behave in the future. Deep stuff, right?
THUG’s political message is not the only that carries it, however. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It has an ensemble cast of characters who each contribute something to the plot and Starr’s personal struggles. There is also a surprising amount of depth outside of the overall theme of the novel. Other conflicts besides the police brutality case exist in the story, too. I’ll just say that there is some sh*t going down in the hood.
The book is also not preachy in the slightest. A common issue many political centrists/moderates have with various pro-black and social justice movements is the radicalism that, unfortunately, taints the credibility many supporters of these factions worked to grow. THUG is not a piece of propaganda. It is very self-aware and reasonable in the way that its arguments are presented. Angie Thomas also criticizes various groups of people who are involved with the issues she portrays. How are white liberals and progressives reacting to Khalil’s death? Are other minorities besides blacks who are even interested in this case? Do all blacks even care? Multiple sides of the case are presented, and while the story may have an “agenda” (which is neither a good or bad thing), it makes sure to present compelling counterarguments (with refutations) to the controversial stances made in the book, some of which are not related to Khalil’s death.
The Hate U Give is an engrossing, compelling, intriguing novel that is as heartfelt as it is funny, entertaining, and thoughtful. It displays the personal and social struggles that arise when potential acts of racism and bigotry occur. Even outside of its messages, THUG provides such enjoyable characters and dialogue that can often make readers (such as myself) forget the heartbreaking premise and crux of the story.
As an additional recommendation, I also encourage readers to check out other quality novels written by people of color that convey similar themes. The Broken Earth is a trilogy of Hugo Award-winning adult science fiction/fantasy novels that deal with the themes of racism, systemic oppression, and internalized racism. Similar to THUG, the books are fantastic outside of their political allegories.
I implore everyone—those who love to read and those who don’t—to buy the novel and be consumed by the world it mirrors to our own. Writers who wish to prioritize diversity and inclusion in their works should look up to Angie Thomas’s debut piece. The book currently has a film adaptation in-production starring Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games), Regina Hall (Girls Trip), Russell Hornsby (Fences), and Lamar Johnson (Home Again), so please be on the lookout for news regarding the movie as it comes.