Friday, 10 March 2017

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

I have tried to write this review so many times and nothing feels right. So. I am just going to go a bit off piste, format wise, and post the blurb, then simply rave about all of the different reasons why this novel is amazing and why you should read it. It has temporarily suspended my ability to be anywhere close to articulate when it comes to trying to describe this book. So the blurb:
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.
It's easy as a white, British person to feel like this can't be real life. Our Police for the most part don't even carry firearms. How can this happen? But it does; "Unarmed Black Man" has been heard enough to become a stock phrase. We have seen the hashtags on twitter. Seen the footage online. It's simply baffling to think that a person can be pulled over for a rear light being broken and end up dead. How?

This is such a powerful, important, vital story inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It's blood-running-cold kind of powerful that leaves the reader brimming with impotent rage at the injustices of judicial systems. Infuriating and baffling, yes, but it's also beautifully crafted- brilliant storytelling filled with wonderful prose. I flat out refuse to believe that this is a first novel, because the hand that has written it is nothing short of masterful.

Moving on to the characters. The protagonist is amazing. Starr Carter is fearless (even when she's scared, she carries on). I cannot emphasize enough how fully-realized and complete Starr was as a person. Her inner monologue, her double life, the fears of being labelled a girl from the ghetto, but feeling conflicted about betraying her race and her upbringing are presented in such a way that it impossible to not be affected by her situation. It must be exhausting to have to be so many things to so many different people, to live up to or defy their expectations. She's real, likable, easy to root for. She talks like a real teen! So many writers get teen language and dialect wrong- there's always some veneer of 'something' that prevents if from feeling real. As adults it's hard to become the voice of teens authentically, but AT pulls it off beautifully. I loved the quips about Future Husband Drake and Cousin-by-Marriage Beyonce. Realistic dialogue is my Holy Grail with YA- it's hard to find, but when you do, it is such a pleasure to read. Obviously this book addresses a really serious theme, but it also manages to be unexpectedly funny, and full of quips and verbal sparring and witty, playful dialogue. Because even when horrible things happen, people still sometimes say funny things.

So not only is Starr the most lovable protagonist I've encountered in ages, there is also a brilliant cast of supporting characters, all of whom have their own struggles, passions, lives and personalities. Even story lines. DeVante, Seven, Uncle Carlos- all proper, rounded characters that exist beyond the pages of a book, beyond the scenes in which they feature. Out doing their own thing. I loved too that the novel showed married 40 something parents that are in love, respectful, supportive of one another. So may YA contemporaries feature broken homes, step-parents, drama, breakups, divorces. It is wonderful to see such a strong family unit full of such well crafted secondary characters. Yes, the Carters aren't perfect, but they make it work and they work hard doing so. I love that Starr has learned how to be treated by a man from her dad's good example. I loved that Starr calls her parents her OTP. It's just too adorable.

On top of the obvious essential social issue context, it is also simply an amazing contemporary novel. The Hate U Give also looks at coming of age, boyfriend issues, female friendships, school, family dynamics, community. Many YA contemporaries struggle to tell even a straightforward frenemies in high school story; with this novel you kind of get that for free, served on the side of a story of injustice, bravery and rage.

I especially loved how Garden Heights and its inhabitants were depicted. Obviously it's a problematic neighbourhood, but the sense of community was so evident. People looking out for one another, cooking food for each other, looking after one another's kids. Despite this, it's easy to see how characters like DeVante and Khalil fall in with bad crowds when there are no opportunities, no accessible role models, no money and no futures available any other way. Even though it's a serious novel about injustice and prejudice, it's also full of hope and courage and inspiring people.

THUG Forces the reader to think about their own prejudices and wonder what they'd do in the same situation. Not just how you'd react in Starr's position, but the conclusions that might be jumped to when seeing news reports or police incidents. It reminded me a bit of the brilliant Asking For It by Louise O'Neil; the assumptions about the victim eclipsing the crime committed against them, that some crimes are justified by the appearance and past behaviour of the person against whom they are committed.

It left me pretty numb to be honest. It's a thoroughly engrossing, emotional and should be essential reading for literally every person, but most especially anyone that has ever said "All Lives Matter". It's so easy to just ignore issues that don't impact upon you personally; to not even have to think about how they won't ever impact upon you. It is privilege in action. The Hate U Give left me asking myself "How can I be better at not being a well meaning but clueless white person? Is there any little thing I can do or change or say to make even a tiny flake of difference?"

This book is going to be massive, should be massive, and Angie Thomas deserves every breath of praise that she gets. The emotional labour of getting a story like this on paper must be pretty huge.

Thank you so much to Walker Books for the review copy and thank you for helping to put this book out there. I still feel like I've not even managed to convey how incredible it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment