• Sinclair Barbehenn

Book Review: The Hate U Give

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

You may have already seen the movie, but as we all know, the book is better. I strongly encourage everyone, young and old, (and in particular, White), to read Angie Thomas’ YA novel, The Hate U Give.

Image: Daily Express

I read this novel as part of a book club during quarantine with my mom, her best friend, and her daughters. Although, as a group, we differ in ages, we all loved this novel! We easily connected with Starr, and her family and friends. Even more importantly, we learned and reflected on Starr’s story.

Inspired by the real world we live in, full of both love and hate, Angie Thomas brings to life a realistic story of a young Black girl’s experience finding balance in her life and finding her voice.

Starr is a Black girl from the city who goes to high school in a rich White suburb. I know Starr, and you probably know a Starr, too. Just like some of the students I went to high school with, who came from Boston to go to the suburbs for a better education, Starr and her two brothers do the same in Thomas’ book.

Although I went to a public high school and the one in the novel is a private school, both mine and the fictional Williamson High School were predominantly White. The story could easily be about either one of them. Starr deals with racist friends and consciously makes an effort to be two different versions of herself; Black Starr who lives in Garden Heights and the Starr who attends Williamson High. Thomas illustrates this exhausting duality in a way that taps into the reader’s empathy - you don’t have to be Black to understand that Starr’s life is made unnecessarily difficult by the people she interacts with every day.

Growing up around friends and acquaintances like Starr, it never occurred to me that they might be doing the same thing and going through similar challenges. Honestly, I was never really close with any of the Black students from Boston, but I wish I had made more of an effort to be. I really wish I had read this book back then so I could’ve had more perspective on what their lives might have been like and what unheard and unseen things they might be going through. Reading The Hate U Give is truly an opportunity to put yourself in Starr’s shoes.

Image: Pintrest via quirktastic.co

The novel begins with what it so often takes to get (White) people’s attention - a bang. Starr is with her childhood best friend, Khalil, when a police officer seems to arbitrarily pull them over, and Starr witnesses her friend get shot right in front of her. The reader experiences the traumatizing event with Starr, crafting an opportunity for the reader to experience a fictional reality based on the very-real reality Khalil’s murder highlights. As the novel unfolds, Starr learns to stand up for herself, her friends, and learns the power of her voice. As she is grieving Khalil, she is empowered to take a stand and fight for him because he deserves justice, just like the many other Black Americans who have been victims of police brutality.

Angie Thomas was inspired by Tupac when he said that Thug Life stood for, “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G-L-I-F-E.” Khalil explains this to Star in the novel and says, “meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?” Thomas saw the connection as she watched innocent Black lives lost at the hands of the police and realized the hate they were given affects everyone (1). She noted that it comes in many forms, such as anger and riots, and the novel is a way to portray one of the voices too infrequently heard from in the Black Lives Matter movement: a young Black woman.

White people will never know what it is like to be Black in America, but what we can do is learn and try to understand so that we can help make the country a better place for all Americans. If you struggle to relate or empathize with the stories on your TV and in the news, you might want to try reading Starr’s story.


  1. https://www.epicreads.com/blog/tupac-thug-life-hate-u-give/

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