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 Korean 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.