Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Review: The Hate U Give

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Racism, Social Commentary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I finished this book yesterday, wrote a 4,000 word review and then promptly the interwebs ate it when I hit submit. So I'm going to try this again. Maybe being a day later this will be a little more concise and less well gushing. Edit: at 2600 words it’s shorter, but I hope no less powerful than my first review/commentary. 

I've tried to break this review, because it's huge, into sections by topic. If you just want to know my overall opinion scroll to the bottom and read my summary. 

The Hype
Any book that receives the kind of hype that The Hate U Give has gotten made me nervous. It's just too often that a book is awful (Twilight) and yet the hottest book of the year. That said many books that are hyped deserve it (Hunger Games, Ready Player One, etc.). So I went into The Hate U Give a bit skeptical and (as a 34-year-old Canadian white girl) a bit unsure of what I was going to be confronted with. Turns out, the hype is well deserved for Angie Thomas' novel. In fact this may be one of the most important novels of the decade in ALL genres; not just YA. 

Truthful & Honest
This has to be the most honest and realistic book I've read in a really long time. And that includes historical novels and literary novels based off real life recent events. The dialogue, language, thoughts and attitudes of all the characters are so genuine. It's clear that Thomas has experienced at least some of the internal conflict that our main gal Starr has. But Thomas does something that is very difficult for many authors, she also gets the other side of the story too. Not only are the black and other minority characters perfect; but so too are the white characters. From the white boyfriend who feels guilt "I feel like I should apologize on behalf of white people everywhere.",  to the black mom who understands the world is not fair, "Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.", to the mislead and mean white girl who implies that because our dead teen might have been a drug dealer he deserved to die.  
These kinds of comments and thoughts are only a small sampling of the truth said and conveyed in this book. So many quotes hit home for me and I hope I remember many of them forever. 

Social Issues Galore
Not since the Handmaiden's Tale have I felt that a book brought together so many social issues in such an elegant and simple way. To take a number of complex issues and tie them together into a realistic story is a major talent. I cannot wait for Angie Thomas to write more books that touch on other social issues. I’m hoping her magic in The Hate U Give is not a one-time hit. 

Social Issue 1: Two People in One
The portrayal of our main gal, Starr, and her major internal conflict between being a black girl in the ghetto who goes to preppy white kid school is sooo well done. Starr expresses how at her white school she is cool by default (being one of two black kids). But that in the ghetto (her home community) she is terrified to be made fun of, look awkward or stupid in general. Even with her own boyfriend she has tried to hide her ghetto life. This is a sub-plot and by far lesser discussion in some ways to the overall black kid killed by a white cop plot. And yet it really resonated with me as it can be true of so many different scenarios (not just by race); but in any situation where you feel you are different people.

Social Issue 2: Racially Motivated Mistrust
The main plot is the situation in which we have all seen in the worldwide news a lot in the last few years. Black kids being shot without enough ‘reason’ by white cops. I would like to say this is a USA problem, but I know that’s not entirely true. If you substitute black for any other minority group, and white for any majority group of any country you can tell the same story over and over again. Initially I had a hard time with Khalil, our murdered teen, because he did move and talk back a bit to the cop… but as I read The Hate U Give I realized that I myself am being too harsh and judgmental and probably thinking like a typical white person. Thomas nails it on the head when she talks about how there needs to be trust between the public and cops. On BOTH sides. Cops need to trust that just because of a certain race, religious affiliation, neighbourhood, vehicle drives, etc. that someone isn’t going to shoot them just because. Now this is a tough thing because stats may show the likelihood of an event is higher in certain areas. But we have to build trust and the best way to build trust is to bring down those who are breaking it. If we, as a society, are too afraid to snitch or report events, people or situations in which the trust is being broken then we are part of the problem. And that is really the inherent message of The Hate U Give… you must speak up! Even if it’s scary, difficult, seemingly useless and costs you something. Without everyone speaking out things will just stay the same, or possibly get worse. The second part of this is to ensure our actions don't break that trust. That might be really hard as it may seemingly affect our personal safety; but without it we are perpetuating the cycle. 

Social Issue 3: No One Deserves to Die
This is another major theme in the book that no one deserves to die unless they have actively done something to ‘deserve it’. Now of course the issue is who deserves it; what is our benchmark at which killing someone is not murder but self-defense. This is an issue that is unbelievably difficult to find two people who agree on never mind a nation of people. But I think Thomas makes her point extremely well by the end of this book. That no one deserves to die for what they may or may not do in the future. Or for what they may or may not have been doing that can’t be proven. Whether we like it or not we cannot decide some people are predisposed to a certain fate, we do not live in the world of Minority Report, and we should be eternally thankful we don’t. 
Most Canadians don’t believe in the death penalty… except in 2 or 3 extremely difficult serial killer situations that have occurred in Canada. But certainly something most Canadians can agree to is that you DO NOT deserve to be shot at unless you are making an offense move towards someone. Ie: you must have a gun in hand and aiming it at someone; or an equally killer intention or weapon. And this is where I think a lot of us that are in majority groups forget that the issue of trust comes back into play.
This issue brings together social issues 1 and 2 discussed above and wraps them all up into one very simple statement: DON’T ASSUME!!!  

So why is this so hard for people…
Self preservation is a biological response we ALL have without even thinking about it. We inherently, like any animal, want to survive. And so those that are in difficult jobs (ie: cops, firefighters, etc.) tend to be very careful people. They understand their job is more dangerous than others and have almost always seen or known someone to be killed by a mistake. The problem is when is a mistake by a cop actually a mistake and not just bad luck or a bad situation gone worse. 
My uncle was an RCMP officer (like a state cop in the USA) and he talks a lot about how you had to trust that no one was going to shoot you. Because you aren’t (in Canada) supposed to shoot at until shot at first or some dangerous threat or offensive action is taken. So we’re back to, what is an offensive action? And this is where Angie Thomas did something most people cannot do, she shows the arguments on both sides and yet by the end of the book I would challenge anyone to say that they disagree with Starr; that shooting an unarmed teen, with their back turned is okay. If you think it might be right now, read this book and see what you think afterwards. 

Emotional Response
So all of these social issues and realizations put together have actually made a huge impact on my opinion and thoughts. It’s a rare thing that a voracious reader, as most of us on GoodReads are, actually changes their thought process because of a book. We all just read so much that it takes a truly powerful and stand-out novel for a major change to take place. The Hate U Give has blown me away, made me laugh (I agree with Starr’s Dad that Harry Potter houses are kind of like gangs…) and made me cry. I’m not a crier… my husband tells me that’s how he knows I’m at my wits end is that I’m in tears and not just angry (lol). I’m a person who doesn’t cry at the ‘make you sad’ books like The Fault in our Stars or Still Alice. If you wrote it to try and make me cry then I’m probably not going to quite get there. But Thomas has done something different; she has created some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read that have thoughts just like I do, that are morally conflicted and confused, that are overwhelmed and marginalized, who feel that they cannot make a different no matter what. And when these honest characters have sudden moments of rage, despair or euphoria then suddenly so does the reader. This is a rare talent, especially in YA books, in my opinion and so I give all the stars to Angie Thomas for making this connection with her readers. 
The great part about a connection this powerful with the reader is that whatever your character learns is exactly what your reader learns as well. 

At the end of the day The Hate U Give has probably changed my life… 
I won’t know for a while longer, but I feel like something has just inherently changed for me. My first version, lost to the interwebs, of this review was much more emotional and raw as I had written it hours after finishing this book. Having now had a day to think about it I feel less raw, but no less impacted. This tells me that I will not forget Starr and her plight any time soon. Additionally I will continue to feel like I want to repeat what Starr’s white boyfriend says “I feel like I should apologize on behalf of white people everywhere.". If it would help I’d be honestly more than happy to do so. 
I have never understood people that make assumptions based on race, religion, culture or geographic area. Maybe because I grew up in a decent neighbourhood in a Canadian city that is moderate in size? Or maybe because we had a lot of minorities at my school’s over the years and one of my best friends was a Japanese boy for many years? I’m not sure. And that just because I’ve dated an Asian guy, a black woman, alongside white men and women, that it makes me perfect and means I don’t have unknown prejudices. I am hoping that I have learned from The Hate U Give to identify more of these prejudice, discriminatory, racist or ‘white’ thoughts that I may not have even realized were in the past. This book has made me realize that everyone, including ME, makes the mistake of thinking we aren’t prejudging people or situations when we probably do it on a daily basis without even realizing it.
We cannot work towards changing this in our society until we realize we are part of the problem. Every person in the world needs to realize they do this towards others, no matter what minority, group or situation you make an assumption towards. This is not just about black vs. white. This is about humanity taking a step forward to be ‘one’ and appreciate each other for what we bring to the table. As well as realizing that many of the prejudice’s we have are based on situations that people haven’t even been able to control. Being born to a poor family isn’t the child’s fault but somehow we always put it on them as they get older. These types of things need to STOP.
The Hate U Give title is taken from a TuPac song that is over 20 years old… the fact that it’s shown in the book that the lyrics of the 90’s are still as relevant today as they were then means we are not making enough. We are not listening. 
Let’s start by listening and trying to understand the problem. Regardless of who you are, stop for once and listen to people. Not just those different from you, but those similar to you. Maybe you will learn something about where the real problem is; and can start to break down the walls our society has put up. We need to LISTEN to minorities of all kinds and stop thinking we know best (yes I’m talking to you SJW’s). Let’s listen to the problems that we are made aware of and not invent issues where they don’t exist. We have enough problems to solve without creating more. 
The second step is to speak out and not let things happen because we are afraid. Whether that is letting someone know you are hurt by their comment, reporting illegal activity or events you witness, or just being strong enough to stand by others and talk to people in a respectful and mature manner about issues. Attacking people with weapons or words is not helpful. We need to really open the dialogue up to make real change happen. And even if we lose and aren’t heard on the first try or the hundredth try we still MUST work towards the morally correct outcome. Because if we don’t then who is going to? 

I want to thank Angie Thomas and everyone that had a part in publishing this book. It’s an important book that I cannot wait to buy for everyone I know (seriously). You can easily replace black for any race, religious group, sexual orientation or other minority and find that it’s about more than just white and blacks. It’s about how we treat one another and the trust we need to build. Trust is best built by the actions we take. It takes time and effort to build it and only one moment, like a gun shot, to crush all the trust in the world. Let’s be conscious of those around us, and things in ourselves, that are deplorable and start to really change the world in a mature and change motivated way. Calling one another names and attacking is never going to fix the issue. Start a dialogue that is intelligent, mature and respectful. Really consider others opinions and admit when you are wrong. 

You can start yours and others journey into this conversation and being a part of change, by reading The Hate U Give, immediately.

I’m not perfect and might say things here that seem wrong or can be misinterpreted by twisting my words. I know some will try to do this. My point in this review is not that we should call people names or make them feel badly. My point is that we should listen to each other, offer fair advice and points of view to affect real change (not just one group against another). No one of us is 100% correct, and this review and book are about building trust and community together. This starts by having intelligent, honest and mature conversations. I hope that by admitting my past mistakes and discussing what I feel I have learned from this book helps people to see what I mean by good intentions and affecting true change.

Thank you for reading this giant review/commentary.

1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

Wow, I can't believe I have missed this book (somehow this often happens to me with 'must read', 'must see', 'must play' things). It sounds well worth reading and, of course, is now on my list.