There are two Starr Carters: the girl from Garden Heights, the black underprivileged neighbourhood that has always been her home, and the girl from Williamson Prep, the predominantly white school her parents send her and her brothers to. She likes to keep it that way. Until she is the sole witness of her friend being shot dead by a police officer. Starr finds herself in the middle of a storm, with both of her worlds colliding with irreversible consequences.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give is offers a crucial narrative, a book that demonstrates why diverse voices are needed in children’s and YA fiction ( Thomas was recipient of the inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant awarded by the We Need Diverse Books campaign in 2015). Such stories are important not only because it is vital for all children and teenagers to see themselves reflected in the books they read but also because all children should read about experiences that are unfamiliar to them. How can we expect them to develop empathy if we do not give them the tools to do so? I was aghast, having been brought in a very multi-cultural community, to find out that neither of my children know anyone their age who is Muslim. This is the kind of community they are living in, and therefore it is vital for them to read books that will challenge what they know and will open windows into other realities, particularly when we are looking out from a position of white and possibly verging on middle class privilege.
The Hate U Give deals with themes that many in the UK would consider rather ‘American’, such as gun violence, gang culture and prejudiced policing; these are images that we are used to seeing on TV. Its bold, all immersive prose, with a voice that is raw and honest, allows us to step directly into the other side of these images and see what it is really like for those who live day-to-day what we only get to experience through our screens, bringing it a very human dimension. Yet while the story is topical, the book explores much deeper socio-economical and historical issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter/Just Us for Justice movements and the way of life that Starr and her contemporaries are living as a result. It is a thought-provoking read for so many reasons.
Though Starr is a girl caught between two worlds, she is also a teenage girl, dealing with teenage problems: friendship, family, relationships. Such universal themes are vital in fiction aimed at children and teenagers, creating a bridge between worlds, allowing readers to realise that despite their very different circumstances, Starr, Seven, DeVante and indeed Khalil are also just teenagers, like them. There are a lot of references to popular culture to help with this and of course basketball; it is particularly refreshing to read about girls loving and playing basketball (and kicking boys’ asses on the court too). It is one of the stereotypes The Hate U Give confronts heads-on, and there are many throughout the tale. Prejudices and misconceptions are often tackled by highlighting that nothing is clear-cut and unambiguous: you can be an attorney and join riots; you can be a police officer and be black. I thought the scene where Starr, DeVante, Seven and Chris talk about stereotypes on both sides was so clever, admitting that we all have prejudices, whichever side we are on. While we all might make mistakes, there is nothing stopping us from learning and growing to become more understanding, open and emphatic. This what makes this book so special. It does not necessarily offer a solution; as Starr says herself, this is no fairy-tale, and while the ending offers a lot of hope, this is not quite ‘happily ever after’ either. But it gives its readers the tools to start making the necessary changes so those stories do not happen again.
The Hate U Give is a superb, candid and deeply affecting story. Do no miss it.
The Hate U Give is published on 6 April.
source: proof copy from publisher