Now that’s how you write an author debut.
Over the years, I’ve seen quite a lot of books raved about online, but there are only a few that reach the level of The Hate U Give. This book deserves all the love it receives and more.
I confess, I spend most of my time buried in books that don’t really deal with very heavy, real-world issues. I usually read books to get away from the real world, which is why it’s taken me so long to finally read THUG – I just wasn’t sure whether it’d be something I’d actually enjoy. As usual, I shouldn’t have worried, because this book is fantastic and, above all, eye-opening.
I’m not going to write an extremely lengthy review because it’s been done thousands of times before and probably far better than I’d ever manage. So let’s keep it short and sweet.
Who, What, Where?
The Hate U Give is YA contemporary novel set in the poverty affected, crime-ridden, and heavily African-American populated area of Garden Heights. This is the home of our protagonist, sixteen-year-old Starr Carter and her family. After attending a house party, Starr gets a ride home with an old friend, Khalil. On the way, they’re pulled over by a police officer who, shortly after, shoots and kills Khalil. As the only witness, Starr is placed in a terrifying position – does she speak up, risking the wrath of not only the police but the local gangs, or stay silent, even if it means sacrificing justice for her friend?
One of the most basic pieces of advice people give to young writers is ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Angie Thomas has done. Thomas grew up in an area of Mississippi not too different from Garden Heights and because of this she has intimate knowledge of the poverty, crime, domestic abuse, drug issues, prejudice, education barriers, fear, and violence African-Americans face in parts of the US. But instead of just preaching to us about these issues, Angie places us smack bang in the middle of it so that we can experience them through the eyes of someone who sees it all every day.
When Starr sits in the passenger’s seat of Khalil’s car, her mind running over every piece of advice her parents have given her for dealing with police, we actually feel her terror. The idea that this is what people of colour experience when they come in contact with those who are supposed to protect them horrifies me. I don’t think I have ever been more aware of my privilege than I was in that moment and that is the power of Angie Thomas’ writing.
However, the most wonderful thing about THUG is that it’s not just about the negatives. As outsiders, we look at neighbourhoods like Garden Heights and all we see are the problems. In this book, Angie helps us realise that despite these issues, this is still someone’s home and there’s so much good we don’t see – loving families, kids playing on the street, thriving local businesses, and a tight-knit community.
THUG’s success isn’t just about its subject matter, it’s also well written, engaging and filled with memorable characters. The plot itself is very multilayered – Starr dealing with issues of race in her friendships and romantic relationship, community issues in Garden Heights, particularly in relation to drug lord, King, and then the treatment of black people by law enforcement and the media. Because of this, the plot has a lot of room to move which allows Thomas to address some intense topics with a character heavy and personal focus
Each of the characters in the novel, even the smaller ones, leave an impression, whether it be good or bad. They’re developed, distinct and actually feel like real people. As a protagonist, I found Starr to be very strong. She’s brave and possesses great emotional complexity. I sympathised with her, felt concern for her, rooted for her, and raged with her.
I wish I could explain just how big an impact this book has but even with thousands of words, I don’t think I’d succeed. Instead, all I can say is, read this book – it’s educational, emotional, and an important reminder of just how far we all have to go to achieve equality.