A story for our age and world, Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give, or, THUG (2017) was a must-read for me this year, and should be for anyone else.
(Photo from Goodreads)
Starr splits her time between the self she is at home in Garden Heights, surrounded by family and the reality of her life, and the self she is at private school, immersed in a different culture where she has to perform to fit in. But these worlds collide when an all-too-common tragedy strikes: her friend Khalil is innocently shot dead by a police officer, resulting in a media frenzy that thrusts Starr into the spotlight and makes her vulnerable to her two community’s conflicting opinions on who was right and who was wrong.
I think the first thing to point out here is that the synopsis for this book makes it seem like it’ll be heavy and preachy and difficult to penetrate, but Thomas writes with an impressive blend of the sombre and humourous. Dealing with such huge modern cultural problems, such as police brutality and institutionalised racism in the US, but in a light fashion means this is a story that can be read by a range of ages within the teen years, without ever deflecting from the importance of the matter. This brings me to another really important point I want to make about THUG: Thomas draws very clear boundaries about what she deems is right and wrong in this situation. She never shies away from uncomfortable topics, such as the fact that Khalil was a drug dealer, but confronts them openly in order to make a point: it doesn’t matter, he still didn’t deserve to die. I think especially within the YA genre, this honesty and openness is crucial and shows Thomas’ respect for her readers, who she clearly deems smart and mature enough to deal with such truths, and which thereby fosters a reciprocal respect from reader for her.
Furthermore, Thomas is careful not to make this a solely black story, as if she knows that this would be to perpetuate the issues that already exist, and it could also alienate some readers. Rather, the book is interested in diversity and inclusivity, forcing different cultures and people to collide and eventually reconcile. For me, this was most effectively achieved through Starr’s relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, who is white. Having an interracial couple in a book about race relations provided a real sense of union, continually strengthened by their ups and downs and the concerns Starr harbours about the nature of their relationship.
Starr is a really great protagonist. She is a confident speaker from the offset, which is refreshing to see in YA, where the female MC usually has to grow into herself. Instead, Starr begins as one version of herself but changes for the worse and the better, which feels much truer to life. She is able to acknowledge that at times she is two separate people, and so she has a self-awareness that makes her a really inspirational figure for YA readers. On top of this, she undergoes an education in social-awareness, enhanced by her relationships with her family members, her friends, her community, all of which are developed fully and usefully by Thomas.
All of these elements make for a powerful and hard-hitting story that simultaneously incites laughter and tears, anger and love. I think it’s a really crucial read for teens today, and not just in the US, but across the globe.