Tuesday 30 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 92: "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

Page count: 438 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR10Bingo: Fahrenheit 451 (one of the ten most banned or challenged books in 2017)

Starr feels like she's living two lives, and in a way she is. She goes to a prestigious private school along with her siblings, where they are among the only black students. She has a white boyfriend, who calls her "Fresh Princess", thinking she's a bit like Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. She lives in a poor and rough neighbourhood, where drug dealing and gun violence isn't unusual. Her black friends wonder if she thinks she's too good for them. Starr's father spent much of her early childhood in prison, now he runs the local grocery store and admonishes his kids to stay out of trouble.

Starr genuinely tries, but her life is irrevocably changed when she rides home with her old friend Khalil from a party, and they are pulled over by a cop. Khalil is unarmed, but shot by the police officer, right in front of Starr. The cop keeps his gun aimed at the hysterical girl until reinforcements arrive. Starr's uncle is a cop, but now she has trouble trusting anyone in uniform. She has nightmares and is worried about the attention the incident is getting. The media is portraying Khalil as a thug, drug dealer and a gangbanger. The white cop claims he saw Khalil reaching for something, and that he feared for his life. The local community are protesting, and demanding justice for Khalil. Starr is the only witness. She wants to stay anonymous, but she also wants the cop who shot her friend to face consequences.

I got this book shortly after it came out in 2017, and kept hearing amazing things about it. However, I also knew that it was not going to be an easy read, and while I was pregnant last year, it was difficult or downright impossible for me to read anything that was too challenging, so the book remained on my TBR list. During Banned Books week this year seemed like the perfect time to finally read it, especially with the movie version just around the corner (I know it's in cinemas now, but it wasn't yet when I actually read the book).

Not going to lie. This book made me cry, quite a lot. It was a very heavy book to read emotionally, because while it's fiction, the events depicted in this novel are so true to what is happening far too often in America right now. As a close to middle aged white women from a privileged background in a country where the police mostly don't even go armed, Starr's reality is about as far from my life as it's possible to get. I do read the news, though (even though the impulse to bury my head in the sand and put my hands over my ears, humming loudly to block out all sound is strong and growing stronger daily). This is a hugely important book and I'm so glad it exists and is being read and enjoyed as widely as it is.

I'm not the first person to review this book, and I won't be the last. I'm amazed that this is Angie Thomas' debut novel - it's such a powerful and affecting read, with such vivid and interesting characters and such a way to bring the reader along with the events of the story. I loved how with really only one exception (King), no one is really irredeemably bad, they're just victims of circumstance and there are complexities around who they are and why they act the way they do.

I have no doubt that I will watch the movie, and if it's even half as good as the book it's based on, I suspect I will be using the film as a teaching tool in years to come. I don't think I'm going to watch it in the cinema, though, as I suspect I will make a complete spectacle of myself, crying so hard. The trailer was difficult enough to watch. I cannot imagine this book won't in my top ten at the end of the year - everyone should read it.

Judging a book by its cover: I have the UK paperback of this book, the cover of which is probably not as well known as the American original. I still think the simplicity of it works really well. A determined-looking, young black woman in profile, the white title font in stark contrast to the mostly dark rest of the cover. It's not fancy, because it doesn't need to be. This book probably sells itself by now.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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