In the novel The Hate U Give by American author Angie Thomas, sixteen-year-old Starr Carter leads a double life. She is the only black girl attending Williamson Prep, a primarily white school, and lives in an impoverished black neighbourhood Garden Heights. Starr tries to balance those two lives, but they will eventually collide when she witnesses the murder of her unarmed childhood best friend, Khalil, by a white police officer with the badge number one-fifteen. Shortly after, Khalil’s death dominates the headlines along with the titles ‘drug dealer’, ’thug’ and ‘gang banger’. Starr goes to the police station to testify about Khalil’s shooting but the police try to justify his death by implying he was a drug dealer. After Starr’s testimony, the police department decides not to prosecute the police officer and this will lead to days of protests in Garden Heights. A few days after the police department’s decision, the District Attorney announce that a grand jury will hear the case in court and ask for Starr to testify. Starr agrees and April Ofrah, a social activist and attorney, will represent her in court. Eight weeks after Starr’s testimony, the grand jury decides not to indict the police officer. The failure of the criminal justice system forces Starr to use her voice as a weapon to keep fighting for Khalil and all the unarmed black people killed by police.
The story takes place over several weeks in the fictional American southern inner-city of Garden Heights as well as the wealthy suburbs surrounding the city. The narrator Starr lives in the low-class community Garden Heights, shadowed by a current war between two rival gangs, and goes to a private school in an upper-class neighbourhood. Garden Heights is a community where everyone knows each other. For instance, you have the barbecue restaurant owner who offers free meals to every kid with a good grade. On the other side of the road, you have Mr. Lewis barbershop and Starr’s father’s grocery store. Thus, when Khalil is murdered by the police officer, everyone comes to his grandmother’s house to bring meals. The author does not include the year in which the story takes place but based on the key details, the story is set in the 2010s. One clear example is the fact that the novel is referring to the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement, an organisation created in 2013 and whose mission is to bring justice and freedom to black people. Another detail is that right after Khalil is murdered, Starr states that she cannot breathe. This reflects the final words of African-American Eric Garner, who died after a white police officer put him in a chokehold while arresting him in 2014. Moreover, the fact that the police “leave Khalil’s body in the street like it’s an exhibit” represents the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body was left lying in the streets. Michael Brown was an 18-year-old African-American who was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2014. In addition to that, the last page of the novel features a list of black individuals such as Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Alton Sterling who all died at the hands of a police officer.
This novel is a great example of life imitating art because police brutality in the United States is a topic that is often discussed but rarely solved. In the United States, police brutality and racial profiling go hand in hand. For instance, in 2019, 864 people[footnoteRef:1] have been killed by police and black men are more likely to be fatally shot while unarmed[footnoteRef:2]. On top of that, research shows that since 2005, only 35 officers have been convicted of murder[footnoteRef:3]. In The Hate U Give, the officer who fatally shot Khalil is not convicted for his murder. This one was not surprising because it happens way too often in real life. It was just another white police officer getting away with murdering an unarmed black teenager. Furthermore, the BLM movement clearly has an impact on the story that is so beautifully written. The novel shines a light on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ versus ‘Blue Lives Matter’ debate. The book also teaches the important role that the Black Panther Party (BBP), an American revolutionary political organisation founded in 1966, had on the African-American community. Starr’s father Maverick has raised her and her siblings to memorize the Ten-point-program of the Black Panther Party. My favourite quote from the novel is: [1: Fatal Force: 2019 police shootings database. (2018, January 2). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/.] [2: Fox, J., Blanco, A., Jenkins, J., Tate, J., & Lowery, W. (2019, August 9). What we’ve learned about police shootings 5 years after Ferguson. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/08/09/what-weve-learned-about-police-shootings-years-after-ferguson/?arc404=true.] [3: Ross, J. (2019, March 14). Police officers convicted for fatal shootings are the exception, not the rule. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/police-officers-convicted-fatal-shootings-are-exception-not-rule-n982741.]
“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
This quotation expresses the importance of speaking up and using your own voice as a weapon. You have to fight for what you believe in and this novel teaches us that our voices should be heard.
The novel uses American rap lyrics as a source of education and shows that language has power. An obvious example of this is that the author drew inspiration for the book’s title The Hate U Give from the late American rapper Tupac Shakur. Tupac said that ‘Thug Life’ stood for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F-cks Everybody’. The meaning of ‘Thug Life’ is explained by Khalil right before he dies as: “What society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” Another example is the use of N.W.A.’s ‘F-ck Tha Police’ during the riots in Garden Heights. The community comes together for a cause and is using hip-hop as a tool to unite. My personal experience reading The Hate U Give cannot be put into words. This novel is not just a story, but an experience that should be discussed and shared. Not only are the messages written important but the author also gives us more insight into each character’s background to make it more relatable. For me, the novel was not easy to read because I could easily relate to it. Nevertheless, The Hate U Give brings a voice to the silenced and I would highly recommend it.