I’ve read a fair share of books in my life. There have been novels which moved me, amused me, taught me, and inspired me. Rarely, though, have I come across titles which have done it all. Most often fall short of their mark. Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give isn’t one of them.
Released in 2017, The Hate U Give quickly took the world by storm, prompting the 2018 release of its film starring Amandla Stenberg who, beforehand, was best known for her character Rue from The Hunger Games.
The Hate U Give was inspired by two distinct things. Its title is in reference to one and that is American rapper Tupac Shakur whose music is well known for focusing on racism and social oppression. The title’s acronym reads THUG, a nod to his concept of THUG LIFE which fleshes out to read: The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. “What you feed us as seeds, grows and blows up in your face,” Tupac explained.
The other source of inspiration was the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Together, both feed into the prevalent themes of the book which highlight how oppressive systems keep the poor and minorities from progressing by feeding into a cycle of crime and violence.
The book follows the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter. A black teen who lives in an underprivileged, predominantly black neighborhood but who attends a posh private school where the majority of the students are white and wealthy.
And there Starr teeters, portraying two personas and managing two entirely different worlds. There is the Starr of Williamson Prep (her school) and the Starr of Garden Heights (her home). But the balance she created between the two comes crashing down when she finds herself the sole witness to the police shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend, Khalil Harris.
Soon, Starr is caught in the middle as Khalil’s death becomes a national headline and takes on a narrative we, unfortunately, all know too well.
Black person. White officer. Shoot first. Media frenzy. Racial tension. No justice.
Many of us are on the outside looking in, yet we fight. We stand in solidarity and protest. We tweet and post and write letters and articles.
“People like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right,” wrote Thomas (p. 61).
However, true to reality, Khalil didn’t get justice either.
And it’s this brand of honesty that makes THUG stand out even more. Thomas brilliantly places readers in the thick of the situation. We feel Starr’s fear, pain, frustration, anger, and strength as she realizes the unique position she finds herself in. We feel it as she deals with hearing Khalil’s reputation dragged through the mud. His transgressions used to label him a “thug” and a “gangbanger” and justify his murder.
We feel it when riots and protests take place, when the blatant discrimination is laid out clear as day, when her white Williamson Prep classmates capitalize on a serious injustice to get a day off at school, when the police put words in Starr’s mouth as they paint a picture to fit their narrative. It’s felt with every word Thomas penned down.
Khalil, then, is symbolic of every person who has fallen victim to police racism and brutality. Philando Castile. Michael Brown. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Freddie Gray. Rekia Boyd. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Walter Scott.
Same story, different name.
Overall, THUG is a tale of racism, activism, grief, family, friendship, wealth disparity, police brutality, and the media’s portrayal of the black community. It educates, impacts and inspires – three signs of a must-read book – and does it engagingly.
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