What makes a book a good book, or even a great one, may be different for everyone. For me, a good book makes me laugh, makes me cry, and teaches me something. (Okay, so that ends up being most of the books I read…)
“‘Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.'”
I spent this past weekend visiting family in Illinois and brought along a book to keep me occupied on the short flight. The book I chose caught my eye on a Costco run with my mom and had been sitting in my “to be read” pile for a few weeks. I was already intrigued by the cover and the summary on the book jacket, but by the second chapter, I was really hooked. I flew through half of the book during the two hour flight to O’Hare and finished it before I returned to the airport on Monday afternoon. (At which point I was forced to start listening to the Serial podcast for the first time—happy, Alexa?)
The Hate U Give, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, is Angie Thomas’ first novel. It debuted at No.1 on The New York Times‘ Young Adult Best Seller list and has remained there for now ten weeks.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter navigates between the poverty-stricken neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-crust suburban prep school she attends. Her life is up-ended when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation—but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two vastly different worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth and, in the process, trying to stay alive herself.
This book made me check my white privilege at the door. I am a white, cis-gender, college-educated female, and so I benefit from certain social, political, and economic circumstances, whether I realize it or not. The Hate U Give explores the life of a young black girl as she copes with the death of her best friend at the hands of a white police officer, and therefore explores race—and, yes, racism—in modern day America. The Black Lives Matter movement “broaden[s] the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state…in which Black lives are deprived of [their] basic human rights and dignity.” I have rarely spoken up about these issues in my personal life, let alone on my blog or social media. It’s not for a lack of caring, but more so that I do not want my words to speak for anyone who is or has been affected by racism. I can share my thoughts, feelings, and opinions, but it will never (and should never) replace the thoughts, feelings, or opinions of those who have experienced it firsthand.
“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
This is an important story, one that it is absolutely necessary to talk about. It’s not just Starr and Khalil and DeVante and Maverick and Seven and Natasha and Maya’s story though. The Hate U Give is also the story Philando Castile. The story of Trayvon Martin. The story of Ezell Ford. The story of Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones. The story of Tamir Rice. The story of Sandra Bland. The story of Mike Brown. The story of Freddie Gray. The story of countless others. “This is about Us, with a capital U; everybody who looks like us, feels like us, and is experiencing this pain with us despite not knowing me or Khalil.” I am not part of that Us, but I can still use my voice to speak up in support of them. I can still share their stories and help incite change.
One of the things I loved most about Angie Thomas’ novel is the incredibly honest and relatable narrator she created in Starr Carter. A narrator who talks about the Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, and Harry Potter, but who also faces unimaginable loss at a young age. She struggles to find her voice—both for herself and her community—in the wake of Khalil’s death. There is so much honesty in Starr’s struggle and her story, and I was overwhelmed by how it made me feel and what it taught me. (Seriously, I cried so many times while I read this on the plane, in the middle seat, flanked by two complete strangers.)
No matter what you’ve heard about the Black Lives Matter movement, or what the news has told you about police officers killing black people, or whether you think racism even still exists… Stop what you are doing and go read The Hate U Give. I’ve said this before about books I’ve loved, but this time I’m so much more serious. Buy it from a bookstore, borrow it from the library, download the audiobook, or snag a friend’s copy. Just go out and read this book.
“I think it’ll change one day. How? I don’t know. When? I definitely don’t know. Why? Because there will always be someone ready to fight…People are realizing and shouting and marching and demanding. They’re not forgetting.”