Monday, April 10, 2017

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017), narrated by Bahni Turpin

You've probably already heard about this hot new teen book that was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, in which a teenaged girl witnesses her friend - a young unarmed black man - get shot and killed by a police officer. Honestly, I was a bit hesitant about it at first because of the whole "inspired by" bit. I worried that it would be gimmicky or just capitalizing on a hot-button issue, but I can assure you that is not the case and this is an incredibly thoughtful, well-written book that will give you not just a lot of feelings, but a lot to think about.

Starr Carter grew up in Garden Heights, a rough neighborhood that her mother has been wanting to get out of for quite a while. But her dad is resistant. A former gang member and ex-con, he feels like the neighborhood is more real than the "nice" neighborhoods, and he'd rather stay there and try to make it better than flee to the suburbs. When she was 10, Starr witnessed her best friend Natasha get killed in a drive-by shooting, and now at 16 she is in the car with her friend Khalil when he is pulled over for a broken taillight in a situation that quickly escalates until he's shot multiple times and killed. Of course there is an outcry for justice in the neighborhood, but will the cop actually be convicted of what is so clearly murder? As the media reports that Khalil may have been a drug dealer and gang member, Starr wonders how well she really knew him. At the same time, she has to come to terms with how little she has allowed some of her friends to know her.

There are SO many interesting aspects to this story. Starr is very close to her uncle Carlos, a cop who works with the guy who shot Kahlil. Starr also attends a shmancy school that is very white - there's only one other black kid in her class and people seem to think they should be a couple. Jokingly, they call each other "black boyfriend" and "black girlfriend." Her actual boyfriend is white and therefore a secret from her father, who would not approve. Her two best friends at this school are white and Chinese-American and Starr knows that she shows a different part of herself to them than she does to her neighborhood best friend Kenya. This is already a lot of pressure, but after the shooting she tries to keep quiet about the fact that she is "the witness" the media keeps referring to, not telling anyone outside her immediate family. But she begins to wonder if it's possible for justice to be served if she doesn't speak out.

In addition to all the thought-provoking issues that come up, it works on the more basic level of being a great story to read. Starr and her friends are regular teenagers who act like teenagers, complete with slang and pop culture references. Her parents are great, too! In many teen books the parents are either absent or two-dimensional or completely screwed up, but Starr's parents are nuanced characters with their own lives and personalities and it's clear they care about her very much.

I'm amazed that this is a debut novel, and will definitely look for more from Angie Thomas. I can't think of one criticism about this book. (Even on Goodreads the poor reviews dwell only on the fact that there's swearing in the book.) Unsurprisingly, the film rights have already been optioned.

Bahni Turpin narrates the audiobook perfectly, bringing the characters alive and, man, she does an excellent scolding parent voice!  She also narrates Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson, another book I'm interested in. I was already considering it on audio, but this definitely seals the deal for me. Seriously, she's one of the best narrators I've heard.

I could go on at length about this book. There's just so much to talk about! But you should just go read it immediately and see for yourself.

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