Book Spoilery Review and Commentary on The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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for me to understand that they’re teens, i.e. inserting references that are popular today, which makes them outdated the second they hit the page.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. thug- bookspoils 1It 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.”

Bam.

  • 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.

Also, this:

“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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Returning To the Starting Point: My (Book)Spoilery Review of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

“You’d rather make up a fantasy version of somebody in your head than be with a real person.”

Knowing this book would be waiting for me upon completing Always and Forever, Lara Jean made it a bittersweet reading experience, revisiting where it all started.

I took a bit of an odd journey with this series, what with watching the Netflix adaption first (having read the first two books back in 2015, I counted on my scarce memory to have my back when watching the film), then turning to reading P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han to refill on the charm that is John Ambrose McClaren, and having to top it off with Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Now, here we are at the end of the road with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before where it all starts: Chris’s leather jacket. She must’ve been right about how bomb that jacket is because it’s pretty much what stirred all the following events to fall into domino-like place.

All this leads to me finally taking notice of the titles for the series, which all add up to read like a letter: Book 1 is the opening line: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Book two is when you want to add something quickly, just before the end: P.S. I Still Love You. And book three is the big finale: Always and Forever, Lara Jean.

Let’s recount:

  • Coming into this from the last book, it’s interesting to see the many parallel lines drawn between Margot and Lara Jean’s coming-of-age, from leaving home for the first time to first loves and taking care of your family. Margot is one of the most fascinating characters to me in how she took on so much responsibility at such a young age, so my heart went out to her when she finally shared just how much she has to calculate her every move because there are two little sisters looking up to her:

“You know what Mommy would always say to me?” She lifts her chin higher. “ ‘Take care of your sisters.’ So that’s what I did. I’ve always tried to put you and Kitty first. Do you have any idea how hard it was being so far away from you guys? How lonely it was? All I wanted to do was come back home, but I couldn’t, because I have to be strong. I have to be”—she struggles for a breath—“the good example. I can’t be weak. I have to show you guys how to be brave. Because . . . because Mommy isn’t here to do it.”

She couldn’t even afford to be vulnerable about her aching for them because she needs to set an example. My heart sings when she’s with her little sisters. She somehow knows exactly what to say to get them moving in the right diction.

“When other adults find out that my dad is a single father of three girls, they shake their heads in admiration, like How does he do it? How does he ever manage that all by himself? The answer is Margot.”

  • Which brings me to my next point: LJ’s infatuation with Josh returning conveniently with Margot’s absence is more of a sign of her clinging onto someone that’s similar to her sister, rather than LJ’s radical love for him.
  • I appreciate how close the film for TATBILB stuck to the source material. I recalled zero-to-none events going into, so it caught me off-guard that the running track where Peter first tells Lara Jean about receiving the letter is present in both the book and movie.

The edit nails it, especially in this scene:

During chemistry, Peter writes me a note that says, Can I come over tonight to study for the test?
I write back, I don’t remember study sessions being in the contract. After he reads it, he turns around and gives me a wounded look. I mouth, I’m kidding!”

  • The film succeeds in granting book Lara Jean her wish during the horror revelation of Peter Kavinsky’s letter:

“It came in the mail? To your house?”
“Yeah.”
I feel faint. I actually feel faint. Please let me faint right now, because if I faint I will no longer be here, in this moment. It will be like in movies when a girl passes out from the horror of it all and the fighting happens while she is asleep and she wakes up in a hospital bed with a bruise or two, but she’s missed all the bad stuff. I wish that was my life instead of this.”

  • As soon as I started reading so many incidents from the book came rolling back into my mind, and it made me recall how utterly hilarious To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is. I read it right after completing the Harry Potter series with The Deathly Hallows, after which I felt… hallow… so having this book suck me right in, which I deemed an impossible task right then, had me beaming.

I remember, in particular, hysterically laughing at LJ’s incident with Margot’s doll (bonus points for naming her Rochelle) and the toothpaste. It had me in fits of laughter for days, so much so that I took a screenshot to keepsake on my phone for those much-needed pick-me-up moments. For old times’ sake, I have to share it here:

“Rochelle was Margot’s only doll. She adored her. I remember begging Margot to let me hold her, just for a second, but Margot always said no. There was this one time, I had a cold, and I stayed home from school. I crept into Margot’s room and I took Rochelle, I played with her all afternoon, I pretended Rochelle and I were best friends. I got it into my head that Rochelle’s face was actually kind of plain; she would look better with lipstick on. It would be a favor to Margot if I made Rochelle more beautiful. I got one of Mommy’s lipsticks out of her bathroom drawer and I put some on her lips. Right away I knew it was a mistake. I’d drawn it on outside of her lip lines, she looked clownish, not sophisticated. So then I tried to clean off the lipstick with toothpaste, but it only made her look like she had a mouth disease. I hid under my blankets until Margot came home. When she found the state Rochelle was in, I heard Margot’s scream.”

That scream in my head is so dramatic.

Funnily enough, revisiting those scenes that were so big in my head, now reduced themselves on the page. Same with the epic Halloween scene that I had a weakness for, where I recalled Peter and Kitty bonding, but in my mind, it was with words and not through their (epic) dance-off. In reality, I only laughed at the memory of laughing while rereading.

But still, we have to share them moves:

“Our big finish is splits, with our arms crossed for emphasis.
Peter’s bowled over, laughing his head off. He claps and claps and stomps his feet.
When it’s over, I try to catch my breath and manage to say, “Okay, you’re up, Kavinsky.”
“I can’t,” Peter gasps. “How do I follow a performance like that? Kitty, will you teach me that pop-and-lock move?”
Kitty gets shy all of a sudden. She sits on her hands and looks at him through her lashes and shakes her head.
“Please, please?” he asks.
Kitty finally caves in—I think she just wanted to make him work for it. I watch them dance all afternoon, my little sister the ninja and my pretend boyfriend Spider-Man. First I laugh, but then a worrying thought comes out of nowhere—I can’t let Kitty get too attached to Peter. This is temporary. The way Kitty looks at him, so adoringly, like he’s her hero. . . .”

Honestly so, so mad the movie missed this epic opportunity to show them off like this…

  • I have to circle back on Lara Jean and Peter way back to her first letter because I didn’t remember a thing she wrote, so I have to say I was beyond impressed with thirteen-year-old LJ:

“And now that the year is almost over, I know for sure that I am also over you. I’m immune to you now, Peter. I’m really proud to say that I’m the only girl in this school who has been immunized to the charms of Peter Kavinsky. All because I had a really bad dose of you in seventh grade and most of eighth. Now I never ever have to worry about catching you again. What a relief! I bet if I did ever kiss you again, I would definitely catch something, and it wouldn’t be love. It would be an STD!”

Savagery.

I low-key piqued at future Lara Jean in Always and Forever, Lara Jean because she had the perfect opportunity to revisit this letter she wrote to her seemingly dream-boy to catch her reaction now, and it was totally brushed aside. The timing was perfect, as well, given her confused state on how things will move forward, she could’ve gone back to how it all started.

  • Since this book chronicles the start of Lara Jean’s thing with Peter, it now makes sense as to why in the following books LJ is constantly on his case, bickering and teasing, given that is how they started out. They’re pretty much hate-to-love, at this point.

“I think throwing Peter off guard could be a fun hobby for me.”

Since Peter K.’s confidence depends upon the approval of others, they start hitting it off when Lara Jean gets along well with Peter’s lacrosse team buddies. Also, of course, his mother’s approval.

Personally, I really came to appreciate the tiny gestures and acts of kindness Peter extended towards Lara Jean, even something as simple as holding her backpack for her. Or that incomparable scene of him coming over to Lara Jean’s to invite her to a game, which leads to him helping out with the cupcakes for Kitty’s PTA bake sale, featuring that one moment that makes everyone stop for a beat:

“Well, if it’s for Kitty, then Kitty should be helping.” Peter hops off the stool and comes up to me and slides his hands around my waist and tries to untie my apron strings. “Where is the kid?”
I stare at him. “What . . . are you doing?”
Peter looks at me like I’m a dummy. “I need an apron too if I’m going to help. I’m not trying to get my clothes all messed up.”

Kitchen scenes with getting all up in each other’s personal space GET TO ME. I can’t help but think of this moment with Noora and William from Skam when he’s preparing her cocoa drink and subtly leans over:

When Peter ends up helping Kitty out with her experiment, while waiting for Lara Jean to get ready, it was the cherry on top of one of the best scenes in the book for me.

“I run to Margot’s room for her big grandpa cardigan, and I pass Kitty’s open door, where I see Peter and Kitty lying on the floor, working with her lab set.”

While I’m at it, talking lazy circles around each other in the library is something I’m always here for:

“What do you and Chris even talk about?” he asks. “You have nothing in common.”
“What do we talk about?” I counter.
Peter laughs. “Point taken.” He pushes away from the wall and puts his head in my lap, and I go completely still.
I try to make my voice sound normal as I say, “You’re in a really strange mood today.”
He raises an eyebrow at me. “What kind of mood am I in?” Peter sure loves to hear about himself. Normally, I don’t mind, but today I’m not in the mood to oblige him. He already has too many people in his life telling him how great he is.
“The obnoxious kind,” I say, and he laughs.
“I’m sleepy.” He closes his eyes and snuggles against me. “Tell me a bedtime story, Covey.”

Also, the quick road trip to an estate sale, bothering to bring each other food (donuts and a sandwich) and getting to know each other by asking random questions, like specifying your absolute favorite food, or racing The Epsteins, was a nice bonding moment. Though his constant lateness is starting to trip me up…

He’s very loyal to his people, but I feel like the main conflict for him is that he doesn’t quite know where his loyalties lie within this book: Genevieve or Lara Jean. Which makes for some hair-pulling annoying scenes.

  • I got weirdly emotional with Chris in this book, what with returning to her younger days and her angst after seeing her in Always and Forever, Lara Jean. My heart squeezes at the memory of them. She’ll grow so much.
  • My only hindrance is that I chose to read this on Yom Kippur, knowing this was the only light-hearted book that would keep me intact, but I didn’t account for the fact that Lara Jean’s whole life circles baked goods and at a certain point it got to be too much for me. There are SO MANY MEALS discussed here, including the intricate details of making them, and I was bursting to shout “Some of us are hungry, Lara Jean…”
  • I was a tiny bit worried that I’d get stuck on the fact this is the Hebrew translated version since I’m always wondering how it was worded in the original when reading translated fiction. But I was pleasantly surprised to find said feeling diminished while reading TATBILB (could be because I originally read it in English, but still). Interestingly enough, Gen and (Lara) Jean are written the same way in Hebrew: ג׳ין, which made me ponder.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55It’s been so long since I devoted myself so fully to marathon a series of books. The last was with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, and not to sound like Granny Lara Jean, as Chris (and Peter) so lovingly calls her, but it was the best of times. If you have a good book waiting for you at home, practically nothing can touch you.

If you’re interested in buying To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, just click on the image below to go through my Amazon Affiliate. I’ll make a small commission!

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Poetry Review: Soft Thorns by Bridgett Devoue

Soft Thorns is a poetry collection that takes the reader on a journey through a young woman’s life—from reckoning with her looks and sexuality to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault, and finally through the highs and lows of young love found and lost. Bridgett Devoue shares her raw, human story and the lessons learned from living a life fully.

I’ve so missed breezing through a typical poetry collection, in particular, the feelings evoked after, packing short impactful punches to carry you through, similar to Flux by Orion Carloto and The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace.

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If anything, Soft Thorns was a wakeup call for me to make sure to frequent into the poetry section more often. It felt so good to tear through this in one sitting.

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Expected publication: October 2nd, 2018

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