Rating: 5/5 Stars
This will be a spoiler-free review. For my spoiler-y thoughts, check out my Book Breakdown on my YouTube channel, which will be posted on 3/21/2018 (My Channel).
Very rarely can I say that a book affected me like this one did. By the end of chapter two I was sobbing, and at that point I knew I was in for a very powerful reading experience. I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I feel like I’ve come out of this experience changed in some way. This book really forced me to confront prejudices that I hadn’t even realized I’d had, and during the incredibly moving finale of this novel I made a promise to myself that I would no longer stand by and watch as atrocities like these happened to the people around me. My voice is my weapon, and I need to start using it.
This book was so much more than a political novel, though. Of course, with the main plotline being what it is–Starr, the main character, seeking justice after an act of police brutality takes the life of her friend Khalil–politics are a central focus of this story. But it also focuses on issues of personal identity, interracial relationships, family dynamics, racism and micro aggressions against people of color, friendship, and more. It’s also obvious that Thomas made a point to avoid making any one specific group of people the “villains.” Every group–police, gangs, black, white–had good and bad people within them. So, really, she made sure her novel reflected real life.
She also took a lot of time to really humanize most of the characters, and it definitely wasn’t a wasted effort. By giving her characters in-depth personalities (histories, likes and dislikes, etc.) she made them relatable to the reader, which in turn made them sympathetic to the reader. In a book like this, accomplishing something like that is incredibly important. The more a reader sympathizes with the characters, the more likely they are to recognize that these things that are happening to the characters–like the police brutality–just aren’t right.
And not only did she make the individual characters feel real, but she also clearly worked hard to make the relationships between her characters feel real as well. Starr and her siblings were constantly picking at each other, goofing around with each other, and overall acting like real siblings would. Her parents were madly in love with each other, but they also had their own problems, just like any real married couple would. They were also genuinely good, loving parents who sometimes screwed up and had to apologize to their kids. Starr and her friends gave me legitimate flashbacks to my own high school friendships, some of which were more pleasant than others. And, again, this all allowed the reader to connect with and care deeply about the characters. It was so, so well done.
The world building in this novel and the way it played such a big role in the plot also really enraptured me. Garden Heights–the neighborhood where Starr lives–and Williamson–the school Starr and her siblings attend–both feel like two completely different planets. It makes sense why Starr feels that she has to act two completely different ways when she’s in each location. The reader is instantly made aware that the “rules” in Garden Heights are very different from the “rules” at Williamson, and it’s easy to pick up on the drastically different vibes each place gives off. The best part about it was how real they both felt. It was like I could have driven a few miles in any direction from my apartment and have ended in either place. I fully give credit to Thomas for this. A lesser author might have given brief descriptions of each location to the reader and allowed them to fill in the gaps with their own imagination, but not her. She made sure to explain throughout the novel everything there was to know about Garden Heights and Williamson, from their cultures and “rules” to the types of people who live there.
Plot-wise, there are actually two separate plotlines that weave throughout this novel. The first revolves around police brutality, and the other I won’t divulge since this review is spoiler-free. What I will say, though, is that these two plotlines worked together impeccably, weaving in and out of each other and coming together to create an impactful resolution. With these two plotlines playing off of each other, they were able to move the story along at a great pace and create some amazing tension. I found myself getting incredibly emotional (angry, sad, anxious) at least once every chapter, and that had everything to do with the tension Thomas built. I swear, by the end of chapter one there was already some great tension working in the background, and it only got more and more powerful as the story went on. I can’t say enough good things about this element of the novel.
As far as her writing went, I really appreciated that Thomas decided to tell this story in Starr’s voice, dialect and all. To me, it just made Starr feel all the more real, and I hope that more authors branch out and explore their characters voices more without worrying so much about “Proper English.” Because, let’s be real, what is “Proper English” other than a bunch of rules someone came up with that we don’t even follow in our everyday speech? Sure, some of these rules make sense and help with clarity, but a lot of them just make characters feel stiff and choppy. In this book, though, Starr felt real inside and out, and I really appreciated that. And although there wasn’t much in the way of beautiful writing in this novel, there were some incredibly powerful lines that honestly took my breath away.
My one and only complaint about this book is that there were some moments that were very obviously “teaching moments” for white readers. These moments read a little awkwardly and felt a bit forced. However, they really did teach me a lot about things I didn’t know, so to me they’re forgivable, especially with how few and far between they were. Plus, they never came off as pretentious, like Thomas was trying to make white people feel bad about their ignorance or something. She was very obviously trying to do what she could to give her white readers some insight into something they likely knew nothing about, and I can’t fault her for that.
Overall, The Hate U Give has officially become one of my favorite books of all time. I adore Starr as a protagonist, I love how I was swept up in the plot, and I already want to re-read the entire novel. I would recommend it to anyone who loves books grounded in reality, with realistic characters and relationships that you can connect to on many different levels.