cover image of 'The Hate U Give' as collage

Why Asian-Americans Need to Read ‘The Hate U Give’

Books Featured Reviews
cover image of 'The Hate U Give' as collage
Cover Image Source: HarperCollins

If you haven’t read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, do it. It’s relevant, moving, and unflinchingly honest. Plus, it’s incredibly well-written. And if you’re Asian-American, you’re not excused.

Starr Carter, the protagonist of The Hate U Give, lives in a poor black neighborhood, but she and her brothers attend a private school in an affluent neighborhood forty-five minutes away. She is smart, well-spoken, and thoughtful, yet doesn’t feel like she fits in either place. The story starts at a party that goes awry. She leaves with childhood friend Khalil, who gets shot and killed by a police officer during a routine traffic stop.

If you watch the news, you know that this story is sadly all too familiar, and all too relevant. The plot is about the cop’s trial for murdering an unarmed black man, but it’s also about much more. It doesn’t just discuss systemic racism—the reasons behind seemingly poor choices (why boys join gangs, why women stay with abusive men)—it puts a face to these decisions and forces you to recognize that things are not as straightforward as you’d like to think.

At school, Starr tries to escape the reality of Khalil’s death by hiding the fact that she witnessed it. Yet she finds herself forced to address the casual racism of her best friend Hailey, who insists she isn’t racist while accusing those offended by her comments as being too sensitive.

Maya, Starr’s Taiwanese best friend, also recognizes Hailey’s casual racism, and the two minority friends form an alliance. But while I do think the book went far too easy on Asians (who, let’s be honest here, can be just as racist toward blacks, and definitely benefit from the model minority stereotype), I’m grateful that it showed the compassion that Asians need to show, where we need to stand. Culturally, we’ve been trained to be deferential. We feel more allegiance toward “our own kind” and distance ourselves from the troubles of other groups. But if we fall victim to believing the myth of the model minority, then we are just as guilty of racism as any other group.

Maya’s story in The Hate U Give is, appropriately, a minor subplot in the greater context of the story. Similarly, while we Asians cling to the many privileges we have, despite any unpleasant encounters we may have faced, we do others a great disservice if we don’t speak out against racism anywhere. We can do better. I say this not to suggest that Asians don’t face racism or haven’t been the target of heinous hate crimes. I’m merely suggesting that we need to call out racism no matter where it comes from or who it’s targeting.

And then there’s Chris, Starr’s boyfriend. Here’s a complex relationship where both parties manage to hurt the other, and they have to decide whether the good outweighs the bad. They’re both still kids, and apt to mess up, but their capacity for understanding and supporting one another is lovely.

Overall, Angie Thomas has assembled a delightful cast of complex characters with nuanced relationships and unique challenges. Their stories provide context for understanding complicated social issues, put a face to each concept, and help tear down barriers to understanding. A good novel is true, with writing that allows the truth to filter out in a much more palatable form than non-fiction often can. Perhaps it’s the fact that Khalil is a fictional victim, and that the players in this drama are not real, that allows the reader to invest more deeply in the outcome, or the fact that nothing is expected of you but to hear the story.

Or maybe it’s the writing. The plotting, characterization, imagery, pacing, voice, all of it. Brilliant. Flawless. There’s not one point during the reading where I was distracted by the writing, confused about what happened, when I skimmed or skipped narrative. And once I was done, I wanted to turn back and start again. This is absolutely a phenomenal book on every level.

Simply put, The Hate U Give ought to be required reading.

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6 thoughts on “Why Asian-Americans Need to Read ‘The Hate U Give’

  1. I agree with your review for the most part, because i really loved that book. But your side comment about Asians is off-putting. Being an asian american, I know what it means to be part of the “model minority”, but if you take a closer look at it, it is an instrument, a tool that white supremacy has put into place to pit minority against minority. So, please, before you make comments like that, please take a closer and deeper look at the situation.
    And the reason I ended up at your review was because I went to see the movie tonight and was surprised that they did not cast Maya as an asian american. She was cast as hispanic? I found that strange.

    1. Lily, I know full well that it is a tool used by white supremacy to pit minority against minority. That does not forgive us Asian Americans from buying into the myth and perpetuating it. It is an uncomfortable truth, but if we allow ourselves to believe that we are better off because we’re doing this minority thing better, or that we somehow deserve more favorable treatment, then yes, we are guilty of racism. Sorry if this is off-putting, but I stand by my statement.

  2. Maya was Taiwanese. If you read the book, you would have the read the part where Maya says she went to Taiwan to visit family.

  3. We definitely don’t benefit from the model minority myth. Just because white people gave us the label does not mean we play into it. If you insinuate this, you are further pitting POCs against each other. Also, while this book represents a minority alliance, you further pit minorities against each other. There is racism in both communities, especially now. No one is denying our socioeconomic privilege. But we can’t be punished for a label that as given to us by white people. No one should be excused for racism.

  4. I am saying nothing about any individual. Perhaps you personally have associated exclusively with the Black community and have faced the same troubles. Perhaps you too have feared for your life when being pulled over by police. Perhaps you have been denied housing or jobs or countless opportunities because of the color of your skin. If that’s the case, then I apologize for lumping you together with other Indians. But in many parts of the country, Indians fare far better and don’t face the same fears that Blacks do.

    I say this not to pit POC against each other, but to point out that there is room for improvement where activism is concerned.

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