“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, simply put, is a revolution, but not one borne of swords or gunpowder — one borne of words. Toting the book around my predominately white school felt both an honor and a privilege, as the girl on the front cover looked like me — dark skin, curly hair, sneakers loose and proudly brandishing a protest sign.
Haltingly, I realized this was true for only one other book I’ve read as a girl. All the others featured blue- or gray-eyed protagonists with bone-straight hair and fluorescent skin. Never before had I resented this absence of me in YA novels I’ve read, but the affinity and love that rushed forth in just reading the blurb of Thomas’ new book was unprecedented.
“This girl is just like me,” I thought.
In some facets, this statement was untrue, but this surface similarity was a gift I never had been granted. Like me, she was black, wore her hair natural, was of lower economic class. Like me, she was enrolled in a majority-white private school. But unlike me, she had witnessed her best friend murdered before her eyes by a police officer, had cradled his body as the life drained away, and waited in complete anguish and terror as the officer trained the gun on her until reinforcements arrived. Reading her story, I could not put the book down. By chapter six, I cried, and I would cry once more before it was finished.
Never before had I read a novel as riveting as this one, one that conjured memories long past and images of characters having passed through my own life, showing them in an endearing light without having to hide their Ebonics or be ashamed of it, and praising their intellect and character as unique rather than dismissing it as “ghetto.”
The icing on top of the cake came when I met the author herself at a March 19 book signing at Atlanta’s Charis Books and More in Little Five Points. About 40 other people had turned out, all of them enamored with the world Angie had painted, whether it be deeply familiar or perhaps an enigma. I realized the feelings this book stirred were not unique to me.
Though it was published only three weeks ago, it has been No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller Young Adult Hardcover list since. At the reading, the author recalled one Philadelphia teen reader’s reaction: “Normally, I don’t read. I find it boring. But that s**t caught me!” A 430-page book delivered a message digestible for all.
Reading the book, I wished to hand it off to everyone in my daily life to explain, “This is me. I am Starr. This is what I feel.” At the Charis book signing, this seemed to be a resounding sentiment about the main character Starr. Thomas concisely binds a topic that at times feels impossible to articulate to those who don’t understand — the clamping around one’s throat upon hearing about yet another police shooting. The confusion and bitterness when the profile of the young boy is flashed on TV (including details about his school grades) with no news about the cop. The rage when others who maybe can’t understand racial profiling or how it changes a person’s daily life complain about “always having to talk about it.”
“The Hate U Give” explains the position that sometimes feels too big and also too obvious to explain. Yet, at its core, it’s just a novel about a girl, a junior, a private school kid whose world gets turned upside down. Any teen could pick it up, plunge into Starr’s world and understand something that otherwise might feel too big.
Jolisa, 17, is one of VOX’s news & features editors, and a senior at The Westminster Schools.