The Hate U Give Literary Guide 2019
Work contracted and published by Bright Summaries
The Hate U Give
A Young Adult call to action against police brutality
- Genre: novel
- Reference edition: Thomas, A. (2017) The Hate U Give. [eBook]. London: Walker Books.
- 1st edition: 2017
- Themes: racism, identity, infidelity, gang and drug culture, police brutality, community, the cycle of poverty and crime
As a college student, Angie Thomas was horrified when she heard about the shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009. She reacted to this news by beginning to write the story that would become The Hate U Give. It began as a short story for her senior project, but it quickly expanded. After college, she set the project aside to work at her local newspaper, but, after hearing about further wrongful shootings and imprisonments in African-American communities across the United States of America, she resumed writing The Hate U Give. The novel centres around the unjust shooting of a young African-American man, Khalil, and how his community reacts, with particular focus on the reaction of his childhood friend, Starr, who was with him at the time of his death. Despite Thomas’s initial concerns that publishers might not like the Black Lives Matter-inspired subject, the novel has generally been well received.
Starr’s life is split into two very distinct parts: the part she shares with her family in Garden Heights and the part she shares with her friends at Williamson Prep. As such, she often feels that her identity has been divided into two and this causes her a great deal of anguish: “I should be used to my two worlds colliding, but I never know which Starr I should be” (p. 576). This confusion over her identity is a recurrent theme throughout the novel. Starr compares it to “flipping the switch” (p. 126) which suggests that, while she finds splitting her personality upsetting, it is something she has control over.
Starr’s sense of identity (and her understanding of others’ identities) is closely linked to racial factors. For example, she bemoans the fact that her black friends do not think she is cool, saying:
“The ironic thing is though, at Williamson I don’t have to “play it cool” – I’m cool by default because I’m one of the only black kids there. I have to earn coolness in Garden Heights, and that’s more difficult than buying retro Jordans on release day.” (p. 27)
Starr’s opinion of the difference in her ‘coolness’ at Williamson Prep and in Garden Heights indicates to the author that her identity is intrinsically linked to her race. At Williamson Prep, she is black, which affords her a natural ‘coolness’, but, in Garden Heights, she is lives in a black community and, as such, her race does not automatically make her ‘cool’. On the other hand, there are times when she feels that her race does not benefit her at Williamson Prep; firstly, she experiences casual racism on an almost daily basis from Hailey, who is supposed to be her friend, and secondly, there are certain ‘traits’, commonly associated with black communities, which Starr hides from her friends at Williamson for fear of alienation. An example of this is the use of slang:
“Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang – if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.” (p. 126)
Through this exploration of identity, it could be inferred that Thomas is highlighting the hypocritical way that a predominantly white community treats black people. Starr feels she has to carefully choose which aspects of her personality she shows to her white friends at Williamson for fear of appearing too ‘black’. This is despite Starr believing that being black automatically makes her ‘cool’; perhaps Thomas is suggesting that society dictates there is an optimum ‘blackness’ which black people feel they must conform to. This dichotomy is also felt by Carlos, Starr’s uncle. When Khalil dies, Carlos finds himself trapped between two identities: his identity as a policeman and his identity as a black man. Initially, he feels the need to defend One-Fifteen’s actions as a colleague, but eventually he denounces One-Fifteen and feels ashamed for having supported him. As such, we can see that identity is a major issue for the characters in The Hate U Give; they often feel torn between two different worlds and it can be very difficult for them to know which side to choose.