This is the first book to be published directly because of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, so of course I had to read it. My only advice would be to please, don’t do as I do, and listen to this audiobook at the same time as reading American Street in print. So much tragedy befalling young Black men at the same time that I had trouble taking my daughter to the neighborhood park without worrying for the safety of the young men playing basketball and skateboarding there.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Read by Bahni Turpin. HarperCollins and Blackstone Audio, 2017.
15-year-old Starr has grudgingly agreed to go to a party with her brother’s half-sister Kenya. She doesn’t often go out both because she’s somewhat introverted and because she feels out of place in her own neighborhood of Garden Heights since she goes to a private school in the suburbs. At the party, she’s just catching up with her old friend Khalil when gunshots break out. They flee, taking Khalil’s car. But they are pulled over by police, ostensibly on a traffic check, but it feels more likely because black teens out at night are assumed to be up to no good. And Khalil has not been taught the rules about dealing with police that Starr had drilled into her since she was little. He moves. He talks without being asked a question first. And just like that, he is shot.
The rest of the story follows Starr in the aftermath of this event, the second time she’s seen a close friend get shot. Should she testify? What will happen if she tells her friends at school that she was there, especially when the news is saying that the police shot a suspected drug dealer. Starr’s carefully cultivated dual identities resonated especially deeply with Pam at Unconventional Librarian, who explains code switching, the different ways Starr talks and acts to fit in at home vs. the mostly white school.
I especially appreciated that the story portrays both worlds in full color. In Garden Heights, there are the gangs and poverty that are stereotypical of inner city neighborhoods. But there are also neighbors working together to take care of their children, avid gardeners, and a fierce sense of community. Starr’s parents are beautifully portrayed, both supportive and firm with their limits. The private school gives Starr the freedom to enjoy basketball. There, only a handful of people have any idea of the issues that Starr faces in daily life, some being more willing to listen than others. The police also have a familiar face, as Starr’s uncle is a police detective. Bahni Turpin does an amazing job of bringing all these characters to life with a wide range of voices.
This is indeed a very powerful book. I cried a lot while reading it, and yet even though it’s too close to reality have a rainbow-happy ending, it still ends with Starr in a place of growth and strength. This is one that needs to be read by everyone, stat.