I have been wanting to read The Hate U Give for over a year now, and I am so glad that I finally got around to doing so. My hesitancy in reading this book was not insignificant. I was assured of its quality, and of that I had no doubt, but I knew that this book contained heavy emotions – emotions that quite frankly I knew myself to not be capable of processing at that time. All the same, being in the slightly better emotional space that I am in now, I found The Hate U Give to be an incredibly worthwhile read.
The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, a sixteen year old girl who witnesses the murder of one of her best friends at the hands of a police officer. While this catastrophic event is the catalyst for the text, and is treated with the depth and respect it deserves, there is so much more to Starr’s story. Yes, the death of Khalil permeates into almost every moment of this text, but The Hate U Give is also a story about a girl who is dating her first serious boyfriend, who is struggling to connect with her friends, and who just wants to live her teenaged life. That is the most beautiful part of the story, because while we hear about the deaths we hardly ever hear about the lives of young black and brown folk, and that is what The Hate U Give brings into focus.
In this violent era of mass shootings and police brutality and the senseless loss of life that is so prevalent one can almost become desensitized, this novel is incredibly contemporary, and hits home in a number of ways. The Hate U Give both does and doesn’t foreground history in that it calls back on historical moments, but the focus of the narrative is on Starr and on Starr’s voice.
The Hate U Give is undoubtedly a story about empowerment and the shifting of identity, of being and belonging. We witness in the text Starr’s empowerment and the development of her ability to utilize her voice in a way that projects change. All the same, we discussed this book in my independent study group and noted that this change is only enabled by a certain amount of trauma. In order to gain that voice and develop into her authentic self Starr had to experience several levels of trauma. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say that Khalil’s death isn’t actually the only traumatic event in Starr’s life that is recounted in The Hate U Give. This girl has been through a lot.
Returning to this idea of the ‘authentic’ (which I could (and might) write a whole paper about). Starr’s narrative raises the question of what it means to be one’s authentic self. A major focus of The Hate U Give is the differentiation Starr makes between the person she is within her predominantly black home neighborhood of Garden Heights and who she is when at the primarily white institution she attends for school, Williamson Prep. Since we as readers are experiencing a first person narration, we witness a shift in the way that Starr organizes her thought processes and how she restricts her natural impulses and reactions to act in the matter that she believes she needs to in order that she may sustain her ‘Williamson Starr’ persona.
I read this shift as Starr masking her authentic self, but it occurs to me that perhaps this version of Starr is an authentic portrayal of herself, simply a different self than the one that she inhabits when in Garden Heights. As I mentioned previously, a theme that I believe to be at the heart of this novel is that of identity, and Starr’s identity in particular, as all of her selves bleed together into one. And so The Hate U Give tells the story not of Starr revealing her authentic self as one or the other, but showing how in many ways she is both and all.
My single bone to pick with this novel is the lack of queer representation. The book does a great deal to queer what it means to be black in America and how we examine the roles of people of color in minority white institutions, but honestly aside from a couple mentions of how Starr would date her friend Jess if she liked girls there was no representation that I can at all remember. While I truthfully only read the book once, trust me, I look out for queerness like a hawk, and I saw pretty much nothing. Honestly I just want to know that someone, somewhere is gay and I didn’t get that from this otherwise fantastic book.
All that said, please, please do go read this asap because I think that The Hate U Give is well worth the time spent, and a book that I would consider to be mandatory reading for anyone, whether you’re into YA or not.
P.S. I keep my reviews here relatively short, but I read an amazing slightly longer review of this book here on READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA, which is a book review blog that reads with an Asian American lens.