I initially tried reading THUG when it first emerged into the book world, but something about the constant pop-culture references in the first chapter threw me off. It felt too much the case of an author, who’s clearly not a young adult, writing teens by seeing their interactions online and thinking that’s how they talk naturally in real life… I can still enjoy teen dialogue without there being some intermediate for me to understand that they’re teens, i.e. inserting references that are popular today, which makes them outdated the second they hit the page. It’s like trying to include a vine into a book, which will lose steam in like two days, while the book takes MONTHS, if not years, to publish; the more you mention something that is on trend today, the sooner it’ll fade out. There’s always going to be something newer and better the following day.
Plus, Tumblr is not quite the platform for a dramatic unfollow. It’s also not THE hub for interactions the author makes it out to be. The number of times it’s mentioned, though, without even talking about Instagram, had me wondering if this was some paid promotion.
Regardless, I picked this book up again, courtesy of my local library holding a new movie tie-in edition of The Hate U Give. It seemed fitting, as well, what with the movie coming out soon, for me to read the book before watching the movie adaption for once, which, in retrospect, I haven’t done since The Fault in Our Stars came out in 2014 (though, at the time of reading I had no idea it was being turned into a movie… my issues with their kiss in the Anne Frank house is feature here). Or Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy that I recently reread and reviewed on my blog.
When The Hate U Give isn’t trying to appeal to “fellow kids,” this book gets it so right in the interactions, like coming out of a good episode of Insecure. The Carter’s ride-or-die family vibes make this book thrive.
The premise of THUG recounts an unflinching look into the traumatic aftermath of police brutality. Starr bears witness to the brutal actions against Khalil, the boy she grew up with and her best friend, older only by “five months, two weeks, and three days.” His last words were to check in on Starr. The subsequent PTSD and the slow path to find and trust the strength in her voice within the power of her community. Things are irrevocably changed by the end of chapter two.
Let’s recap the details:
The Q&A at the end of the movie tie-in book between author Angie Thomas, Amandla Stenberg who stars as Starr, and director George Tillman Jr. voiced it best by saying The Hate U Give is here for “people who didn’t know anything about Black Lives Matter or police brutality to walk in the shoes of Starr for a moment.” She offers a unique perspective not many get to see in mainstream media that can hopefully install empathy in unaware readers of the complexity at hand.
- The white boyfriend, Chris, whose defining feature is his whiteness… There’s no point of development when it comes to him as a character or his year-long relationship with Starr. All we know is that he goes to school with her, plays basketball and has a type in women that falls somewhere between Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, and Amber Rose. *Clears throat* Firstly, how do you expect me to root for a relationship, especially one set in high-school, when there are essentially no scenes developing them as a couple? I mean, even something as basic as Starr’s reasoning behind choosing this stale boy as her boyfriend, other than her “Jordan fetish.” Like, why are you here boy? If his defining feature is set to be his whiteness then explore more of that aspect in their relationship. At some point, I was willing to settle for any scene with them simply talking about something deeper than the school cafeteria lunch, but instead of exploring the complex components that arise in their relationship, Starr’s like:
There are those promising moments where Starr goes “hmm, this is interesting to explore” but then IT’S NEVER EXPLORED. She always stops herself just before a deep revelation with Chris, and it’s beyond discouraging.
“But that moment he grabbed my hands and I flashed back to that night, it’s like I suddenly really, really realized that Chris is white. Just like One-Fifteen. And I know, I’m sitting here next to my white best friend, but it’s almost as if I’m giving Khalil, Daddy, Seven, and every other black guy in my life a big, loud “fuck you” by having a white boyfriend.
Chris didn’t pull us over, he didn’t shoot Khalil, but am I betraying who I am by dating him?
I need to figure this out.”
Narrator: It was never figured out.
Also: They never fully addressed the fact that after a year of dating Chris didn’t seem to mind all that much that he was hidden from the person whose opinion Starr cared most for, meaning that he wasn’t all that real to her without the approval of her dad. She was half a person with him, never her full self.
“God. Being two different people is so exhausting. I’ve taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I’ve mastered it. As much as I say I don’t have to choose which Starr I am with Chris, maybe without realizing it, I have to an extent. Part of me feels like I can’t exist around people like him.”
This concept was such a missed opportunity to explore deeper. As well as:
“I try to forget that he has an entire floor as big as my house and hired help that looks like me.”
Chris always brushes her off with an “I don’t care,” but that comment dismisses so much of what’s important to Starr. Those things he “doesn’t care about” take up a majority of her life and the community around her. Their whole time together I just felt like I was watching Sam and Gabe’s relationship unfold from Dear White People.
Plus, Hailey’s callous comment to Starr (“What’s next? You want me to apologize because my ancestors were slave masters or something stupid?”) got me wondering whether interracial couples in America address slavery, especially with white Americans, or do they just low-key erase history by saying it was too long ago?
- Their little relationship paled in comparison to Starr’s tight-knit family. Starr’s Dad truly hit the jackpot with Lisa Janae Carter. She and her mother, Adele, are the true stars of this family. I lived for those moments when they called family members out, and oh, Lisa breaking a name down never grew old on me.
“You not gon’ say hey to me, Adele?” Fo’ty Ounce asks. When he talks, it jumbled together like one long word.
“Hell nah, you old fool,” Nana says. The door slams behind her.”
- Circling back to Dear White People, this spoken word by Reggie Green will make you stop cold; it has an all too fitting message:
This important moment parallels when Starr tells it all:
“You wish that more cops wouldn’t make assumptions about black people?” she clarifies.
“Right. This all happened because he”—I can’t say his name—“assumed that we were up to no good. Because we’re black and because of where we live. We were just two kids, minding our business, you know? His assumption killed Khalil. It could’ve killed me.”
A kick straight to the ribs.
“If Officer Cruise were sitting here,” Mrs. Carey says, “what would you say to him?”
I blink several times. My mouth waters, but I swallow. No way I’m gonna let myself cry or throw up from thinking about that man.
If he were sitting here, I don’t have enough Black Jesus in me to tell him I forgive him. Instead I’d probably punch him. Straight up.
But Ms. Ofrah says this interview is the way I fight. When you fight, you put yourself out there, not caring who you hurt or if you’ll get hurt.
So I throw one more blow, right at One-Fifteen.
“I’d ask him if he wished he shot me too.”
- On a different note, coming out of this after having reread Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, I was all onboard with the many Harry Potter references dropped throughout the book, like, it’s mentioned A LOT. You can tell the author’s a true fan with this simple phrase: “What’s going on? You’re Harry in Order of the Phoenix angry lately.”
The Harry Potter references were on top of their game, though, her dad’s theory might be the cherry on top:
“Daddy, you’re the worst person to watch Harry Potter with. The whole time you’re talking about”—I deepen my voice—“‘Why don’t they shoot that nigga Voldemort?’”
“Ay, it don’t make sense that in all them movies and books, nobody thought to shoot him.”
“If it’s not that,” Momma says, “you’re giving your ‘Harry Potter is about gangs’ theory.”
“It is!” he says.”
This made me roar with laughter.
“What we used to call ourselves? The Hood Trio. Tighter than—”
“The inside of Voldemort’s nose. We were so silly for that.”
These are the kind of scenes set to linger with you long after completing the book.
- I did lose some of that initial enthusiasm with THUG when it settles to move the plot forward with: “I wanna wait until I don’t have any other choice.” There are so many points that get stilled from development simply till the characters have no other alternative, and it became a bit frustrating to read time and again. Most of Starr’s final decisions occur after experiencing something that she wants to put an end to, even though she always had the choice to do it beforehand.
- The compelling point to Starr’s growth was realizing this quiet truth: “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
Elie Wiesel, survivor of the Holocaust, once strikingly said:
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
This ends now.
“Once upon a time there was a hazel-eyed boy with dimples. I called him Khalil. The world called him a thug.
He lived, but not nearly long enough, and for the rest of my life I’ll remember how he died.
Fairy tale? No. But I’m not giving up on a better ending.”
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