Sometimes I just get a real craving for a certain kind of read. Last week I was after the cosy familiarity of a great classic piece of literature. This week I was craving some really good quality YA fiction. I do really enjoy YA but sometimes I feel that I’ve outgrown it a bit and I don’t pick it up as much. Having said that the YA market is booming at the moment and there are some really great reads to be had, so I still enjoying dipping into the genre as much as I can.
I recently went and bought myself a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This came out last year and was a massive hit across the different bookish communities, providing a really relevant exploration of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. It’s had such an impact that the film adaptation is actually coming out soon so I knew I had to get to it before then.
The book follows our main protagonist of Starr, a young black girl with somewhat of a split in her life. Starr feels like she occupies two worlds; the poor neighbourhood where she lives and where she was raised, and the wealthier, primarily white high school she goes to in the suburbs. One night Starr’s life takes an unforgettable turn when she is the sole witness to the murder of her childhood friend, Khalil. The case should be clear cut, with Khalil being unarmed and innocent of any crime that night. Yet the person who shot him is none other than a police officer, and the repercussions of that night mean that the different worlds Starr occupies are about to clash horrifically. Can she speak out for her friend and the injustice which has been done when her life and that of her family could be in danger?
I’m really glad that I decided to pick this book up as despite the extremely important subject matter it is still an extremely easy and strangely enjoyable read, which you might not expect. Style wise the entire novel is very pacy, with the main plot kicking off almost instantly. From this main catalyst device of Khalil’s death the novel keeps moving steadily onwards, showing how the aftershocks of his death continue to radiate outwards not only to Starr and her family, but also the wider community. What I came to realise when reading this book is that there were no unnecessary scenes or moments which distract from the overall theme, with everything working cohesively together.
What’s surprising however is that despite the central idea of this book and the discussions it is raising, the book is also about much more than this terrible crime. Throughout the novel we come to understand the characters within it extremely well. We examine not only Starr and her relationships at school, but also her familial relationships, her love interests, her community, and perhaps most important her relationships with her own cultural identity as a young black woman.
At the beginning of the novel Starr feels very much like she is straddling two worlds, that at home she can be the ‘hood’ version of herself, whilst at school she is much more mindful of her identity as a black woman and actually tries to distance herself from it at times. I think this was a brilliant topic to examine as it’s something that is prevalent all over society. There are so many different cultures over this world, with Starr’s friend Maya representing what it might be like to be an Asian living in a primarily white society and the prejudices she could face. The idea that so many people split their identities depending on who they are with is both a fascinating and a completely devastating one and I think this book does a brilliant job at shining a light on this.
Another thing which I think the author had done well is giving each of her characters a very distinct voice, specifically in terms of different cultural colloquialisms. This is extremely evident in the way that Starr speaks both in her home community and in her school .At home Starr is not afraid to use the slang that she has been accustomed to all of her life, whereas at school she actively works to stop this and to speak as everyone else does for fear of being labelled as somebody clearly from ‘the hood’. Similar ideas can be seen when other members of her community are faced with members of the law enforcement. They alter their attitude, trying everything in their power to make themselves seem less of a threat because of the ways in which society has deemed their normal behaviour. The author has written the many different voices in here with great style and confidence. I completely believed in the characters she was writing and the way they were speaking because of the easy and natural manner in which it comes across.
One of the only things which I found slightly problematic about this novel was the evident divide between white and black people and the ways in which we view each other. There was one moment when Starr is understandably angered and upset when someone who is suppose to be her friend makes a comment about fried chicken. Starr is horrified and sees it as a dig at her black heritage and where she is from. A few pages later Starr herself then makes a passing comment about how white people are all crazy for their dogs, dressing them up in clothes and pampering them needlessly. I found this scenes a bit uncomfortable as I felt that these were both two instances of racial stereotypes and neither of them should necessarily be acceptable. On the other hand it depicts brilliantly the ways in which our opinions are formed on these prejudices we have and how or history has made things like this seem acceptable. I guess coming across instances like this just made me realise how much I wish we lived in a world where comments such as this weren’t even relevant.
The real star quality of this book is that it is such an easy and accessible way for people to become interested and engaged in the different topics regarding race, as well as a fantastic way of getting outside of my own viewpoint. You never feel as if you are being preached at in the book because you are simply given the facts as they are, without added embellishment. I’m an extremely privileged person. Although I might not be from the more affluent part of society class wise, I am white, British and extremely privileged in everything I do have. This book was an effective but also an easy way to get outside of my own mindset and to explore what it might be like for people of different races and cultures to my own.
What’s interesting is that the Black Lives Matter movement seems to focus quite often on what is happening in America as opposed to Britain. I’d like to think that this is because its not needed as much in the UK, but that would be an extremely naive point of view. What it does mean is that it’s hard for someone like me to learn more about this and become involved without resulting to social media, which can of course be completely unreliable. This book provided me with the perfect starting point for getting involved in these discussions without being bombarded with the story the media tries to portray. I actually found myself doing my own research after reading this, looking into the cases such as that of Emmett Louis Till which I have never really been taught enough about over here in Britain. Even my friends who are black over here knew relatively little about the matter, which really shocked me when I learnt how truly disgusting it was and the blatant racism and murder which was allowed to take place. I’ve been shielded by the ugly truth, not only because of my colour but also because of where I live.
Interestingly although this book exists because of such awful crimes and the awareness is it trying to raise, it never felt overly fuelled by anger or hatred. It of course does inspire an anger to grow, and anger at the inconsistencies of the law and the blatant racism of certain people, but this is not allowed to overshadow the book. Overall I left this book feeling inspired, with this spark of hope alive for the future that we can make together. Cheesiness aside, it’s true!
This is a truly phenomenal book which hits back directly at society, being all the more effective for its extreme relevance. It’s honest and brutal in its shocking exploration of race and hate crimes, yet cannot help but fuel you with a spark of hope for what the future can be. I defy anyone to read this book and not to find themselves still thinking about it weeks after. A To Kill A Mockingbird for the modern audience.