“The Hate U Give” — An Urgent Message the World Needs to Hear

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The Hate U Give is a brilliant protest against racism and police brutality. Though tales with similar morals are common, the personal twists of author Angie Thomas separate this one from the rest. 

Set in the fictional town of Garden Heights, the story opens traumatically. On the way back home from a party, high school girl Starr Carter watches her friend Khalil, who was unarmed and had committed no crime, get killed by police right next to her. The story strikes the reader right in the first chapter with anguish, then slowly unfolds as Starr embarks on a quest for justice.

Through Starr’s narration, the image of her family, her community, and herself gradually builds up. When Starr’s perception of the world changes, the reader’s does, as well. She undergoes three stages of character development:

First, learning to withstand the loss. When two of your best friends are murdered right in front of you, it’s hard to go on with your life, left alone to fight for their justice. Every time Starr is asked to recall the scene, she struggles to collect herself. But she keeps going to the interviews and the trials because she’s the hope of truth. In the end, although the police officer isn’t indicted, she has put her best effort into not letting the world forget about Khalil, as well as many more out there like him who deserve justice.

Moreover, Starr struggles to find a balance between her “Garden” self and “Williamson” self. To fit into Williamson, a school of mostly white people, Starr is cautious about not showing anything that associates her with her neighborhood, Garden Heights. 

“My voice is changing already. It always happens around ‘other’ people, whether I’m at Williamson or not. I don’t talk like me or sound like me. I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I’m ghetto.” 

Especially after the media portrays Khalil as a delinquent, she becomes increasingly aware of her reputation. Although the mask conceals her insecurity, it also makes her feel like she was betraying Khalil by denying that part of herself.  Through friends that respect her background, she learns to embrace her true self. 

Ultimately, Starr gathers the courage to speak up. As the only witness of Khalil’s murder, she’s scared to testify because an entire community depends on her sole words. Anyone could be signing petitions, tweeting RIP hashtags, or joining street protests, but when you’re left on your own, most people turn silent.  However, Starr is a legend who does what most people don’t, hence this empowering story. “Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.”

Starr’s conflicting characteristics bring frustration and heroism to life. She strengthens and matures as Khalil’s case evolves and takes readers on a generous tour of the minorities’ world.

To build the dimension of this character, author Angie Thomas deliberately manipulates the narration and the plot movement. Her words are filled with slang and yet gracefully written. As she claims, “an authentic voice is all about listening to the people around me, listening to the world and listening to language patterns and seeing how people actually talk.”

Furthermore, the development pace is well-controlled; the first chapter itself is an eloquent example. Angie Thomas weaves together intense scenarios, such as Khalil’s death, Starr’s meeting with the Grand Jury, and a riot in Starr’s neighborhood, to convey the affliction. Meanwhile, she is generous with lighthearted content to create variations in the pace, brighten up the reader’s day, and keep the pages flipping. 

Although I can’t relate to Starr’s experiences, The Hate U Give made me a more conscious citizen. For most of my life, racism wasn’t a topic within my perimeter. I never had to worry about discrimination in a homogenous Chinese community. After transferring to a boarding school in the U.S., however, I started to become aware of my racial identity. I am grateful to my school for embracing my differences, but I know that not everywhere around the world does the same. 

Starr, only three years older than me, witnesses the darkness of humanity that I never envisioned to be possible. Her heart-rending story reminds me of how lucky I am and reveals what others might be going through. Similar scenarios occur in real life, but not everyone has the same bravery. I admire the ones like Starr who are willing to speak up, and I thank Angie Thomas for urging people to be like her. 

Shortly after writing The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas carries the justice theme into her second novel, On the Come Up. In fact, I read her second book before this more popular debut. Because of the overlap in setting and topic, I expected the two novels to be very similar.

To my surprise, I found out that the two stories are based on characters with different qualities and purposes. The journey of Starr in The Hate U Give is community-oriented, in which her family and friends play a large role. Bri in On the Come Up, on the other hand, pursues justice for a more self-oriented purpose. 

From my perspective, I can see why The Hate U Give is more commercially successful. It promotes a universal message of communities supporting each other, whereas On the Come Up inclines toward individual power. However, it’s hard to decide which story is better – they are unique and equally impactful.

In each and every way, The Hate U Give lived up to the fame. It’s a difficult story to endure, but we can’t live without realizing the reality it reflects. An urgent message makes a book crucial – and that, combined with skilled narration, makes The Hate U Give a masterpiece.