Occasionally there are books that garner an extraordinary level of hype in the book community and then deliver on that hype, one hundred percent. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’ debut novel, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, is one of those rare cases. The book was published a little while ago in the US and has just hit the shelves of bookshops all over the UK. I was very lucky to be given an early proof copy and I gasped, laughed and cried through this brilliantly-written story of discrimination, family, determination and personal resilience.
The Hate U Give is a masterpiece from start to finish. Angie Thomas creates an incredibly charismatic narrator in Starr, who witnesses her childhood friend Khalil shot by a white policeman during a roadside stop-and-search. She must decide whether to speak out and risk reprisals, or stay quiet and betray her friend, community and her own beliefs. As the story continues, Thomas explores Starr’s conflicted feelings about her race, her neighbourhood with its prominent gangs and her father’s place within this power-structure, and her situation as a black girl in a mainly-white school.
Inspired by #BlackLivesMatter and with a Tupac quote woven through it, this compelling, powerful novel goes right to the heart of issues of institutional racism and prejudice that are so pervasive in America but also global culture more widely. Angie’s honesty and upfront way of confronting these issues never feels forced or moralistic. The characters and situations are far too well-drawn for that. They, and the situations she places them in, are also far too real not to be believable. In additional to racism, both personal and institutional, the way in which Thomas highlights the difficulty of gang culture and expectations of masculinity for young Black men put me immediately in mind of the brilliant Moonlight – she allows characters to speak for themselves, articulating the pressure they feel, and the way in which the society they live in forces them towards a particular way of life.
It’s astonishing that this is Angie’s debut novel – Starr’s voice is striking and immediately engaging from the first page, with moments of tenderness, tragedy and outrage perfectly pitched. I know some people have been critical of what they perceive as ‘bad language’ but nothing – to me – seemed out of place. Perhaps they need to meet a few more teenagers.
I can’t wait for more people to read this book, to experience the inspiration and the anger of The Hate u Give for themselves.
The Hate U Give is out now, in all good bookshops, published by Walker Books. Buy The Hate U Give
Huge thanks to Darran and to Rosi at Walker Books for my ARC.