The Hate U Give has had a lot of hype. It was nominated for a National Book Award, it won two awards in the Goodreads Readers Choice awards, and Audible.com’s Editor Choice for book of the year among other awards.
One friend on goodreads said she read it with a question about whether The Hate U Give was really a great book or whether it was a book that matters because of the moment. In the end she decided the later and not the former, but I am not sure. It does matter because of the moment. Young adult and other fiction readers are asking for more books by and about people of color. And there is a need for realistic portrayals of difficult ethical situations. But I also think it was well written.
Starr is 16. She lives in Garden Heights, a poor neighborhood of New York City but attends school in a wealthy suburban private school. She lives a double life. Her father is an ex-gang member and black power advocate that is committed to helping people in the neighborhood. Her mother is a nurse, equally committed, but also concerned about the impact of their neighborhood on the lives that her children live.
After a fight at a party over spring break, Starr runs out out of the party with an old friend who takes her home. On the way home, they are pulled over by a White cop. The stop goes poorly and the cop shoots and kills Starr’s friend.
The balance of perspectives, an uncle that is a police detective, a mom that attends a multi-racial church, a black power advocate father, her White boyfriend, Asian school friend, the White school friend that ends up not being much of a friend, the neighborhood friends, the local gangs members, etc., keep The Hate U Give from being just a screed against police brutality and poverty.
There is much to appreciate in The Hate U Give. While there is hope at the end, it does not put too pretty of a bow on everything (although it may still be a bit too pretty). The title is a reference to the Tupac Shakur song’s Thug Life. There is some language in the reference, and some language throughout the book. But the basic idea of the reference is not fundamentally different from Christian theology around sin and the way that sin impacts not just the sinner but also the community around the sinner. Although Tupac is a bit more pointed.
The Hate U Give talks about the reasons behind, and the futility of riots. It also portrays the frustration over the legal system’s inability to actually appropriately handle police brutality. And the need for protests to continue in order to eventually make a difference.
I don’t think The Hate U Give is perfect. But I do think it is a well written YA book that handles a difficult subject well without reducing the subject to an unhelpful caricature.