I am so behind on reviews, but I’ve also been reading really slowly the past couple of months so it’s not as bad as it could be. Silver linings, right? Right. So, The Hate U Give, I finished this book back in February, and it was so good. It’s a contender for best book I’ve read this year, and to say that after only two months (or even four) is pretty bold. But I just think it’s an indication of how good it is.
Before I get into it, yes you should read this book. If I haven’t been clear enough yet, it’s utterly fantastic. Starr Carter lives in the poorer part of an unnamed city, but goes to a prep school outside of the city. I don’t know where exactly Thomas intended to set this, but for me it was set in Baltimore. Because that’s what I’m familiar with. Star isn’t sure where she fits, or how she fits, into either the city world or the richer suburban world her classmates live in. And then she witnesses a cop shoot one of her childhood friends.
Anyway, as The Hate U Give has been reviewed here on Cannonball Read many times before, I thought I’d try something different. I’m going to take the one star reviews on Goodreads and respond to them. I’m going to ask myself if I think they have a valid point, and why or why not? And does their point change my view of the book at all? I’m well aware that many of these reviews are going to be racist AF, but to challenge myself I’m going to try to respond to all of them without swearing or calling the reviewer an imbecile. However, I am going to summarize the main points of the review in question, instead of quoting directly, which means that if several reviews have similar problems with the book I’m only going to respond to that issue once. I decided to do this because I think the book is a conversation starter and despite many of the one star reviews being racist AF, there are a couple of good points scattered in there. I want to see if I agree or disagree with those points. A lot of times I’ll challenge myself with a book by reading the opposite reviews (I do this with books I hate too) in order to see if someone can change my mind about the book. It doesn’t often happen, but sometimes it can give me a different appreciation for the book. Also, after I read some of these reviews the first time around I found myself arguing* with them on my drive to and from work, so I thought I should probably write down my thoughts.
*This is how you know that I was worked up about both the book and the reviews. Yes, it was out loud and there were many hand gestures. But the only people who saw me were all the other people stuck in traffic so….
Anyway, let’s get started.
“This book is racist against white people”. Oh, I see. We’re going to be testing the “don’t call the reviewer an imbecile” rule early. That’s cool. (This is a common complaint among the one-star reviews, so I’m gonna get it out of the way early) So firstly, you can’t be racist against the dominant group of people. You can be prejudiced, but that’s not quite the same thing as racism. However, a lot of people (un-woke people) tend to use the two terms interchangeably, so I’m going to be charitable and say that the reviewer is complaining that the book is prejudiced against white people. This is a point I disagree with. In fact, it’s flat out wrong. Yes, there are some quotes from the book that make blanket statements about white people and our more um…. unique cultural mores. However, to say that the book as a whole is prejudiced and then cherry picking a few quotes to back your claim while ignoring the many other instances of white people being sympathetic and diverse is just bad arguing. A few statements from the characters, especially ones made in jest, does not prejudice make. I’m going to say that this is an example of a white person reading this book and feeling like they were slapped in the face when their culture was gently mocked. Does not have any effect on how I feel about the book.
“This book hates cops, and Starr’s uncle being a detective doesn’t change that” Ok? That’s kind of the point? I understand why this reviewer thinks this is a problem, the US has this entire culture built up around revering cops, and how great (but difficult) their job is. It can be hard for someone saturated in this kind of reverence to realize that not everyone sees them that way and that cops aren’t infallible. In fact, the idea that for some people cops are dangerous and scary is pretty radical to those who only really know cops through television and movies. This point actually strengthens my belief that this book is necessary reading material because challenging the innate trust that (mostly white) people have in cops can only be a good thing.
“This book is full of stereotypes and there’s no depth or nuance in the story telling” I disagree, though I can see where this reviewer is coming from. The reviewer feels as though the book was written by someone with no experience in inner cities and just took every stereotype of black people living in the city and combined them all into one book. For example: Star’s father is a former gang member who went to prison, they have a pit bull, Starr loves her Jordans, etc. And I can see where this reviewer is coming from. However, there’s a difference between a cliché and a trope, and though the line between the two is very fine I don’t think the book crossed it. I think that Thomas took inner city tropes and used them to tell her story. I don’t think she stepped over the line into cliché. I thought the characters were fleshed out beyond the tropes. Yes, Starr’s father is a former gang member and was in prison but he also owned the local grocery store, was a loving father and husband, and he was a good cook. He was more than just the trope. But my view that the tropes don’t fall into stereotypes also comes from my white perspective, which is steeped in the privilege and racism that comes with my whiteness. So the question is, knowing that some reviewers found the book to be cliché ridden does that change how I feel about the book. No? But it does make me think about my own assumptions, and I find it to be a good conversation starter about the book. As for the second point in the review, that the book has no depth or nuance, eh. It’s YA. I don’t expect a ton of nuance here. The reviewer noted that they don’t read a lot of YA, so this is one I chalk up to being unfamiliar to the genre.
“Thomas isn’t a good writer, and her prose doesn’t fit the subject matter” Another point I can sympathize, but still disagree, with. I found the book to be believably written (for the most part- more later) from the point of view of a teenage girl. It feels like Star is telling us her story, and it worked for me. Can I see how that wouldn’t work for everyone? Absolutely. Does this change how I feel about the novel? No, not really, though I think I want to go back and reread the book with a closer eye to the prose to see how valid the point is.
“Star doesn’t feel like a modern teenager, she’s too obsessed with the 90s. And also who thinks their parents are their OTP when you’re 15?” Yea, ok, so this one is pretty on point. I didn’t really notice it while I was reading, but looking back I can see this being a problem. There are a lot of references to 90s pop culture and not quite as many to modern pop culture. I can see how that shakes the believability a bit. But I didn’t really notice it much because I was a teen during the 90s, so those references felt right to me. And now I feel old. As for the fact that the reviewer found it weird that Star liked how her parents interacted with each other, again I must disagree but only because of my personal perspective. I don’t know that I would have ever put it into the same words that Star did, but the relationship that my parents have is one that I admire and even as a teen I knew it was relationship goals. (though I definitely wouldn’t have used that terminology, 90s remember?) So your mileage will vary on that point. I don’t think this criticism changes how I feel about the book, and I definitely don’t think it’s worth dragging the book down a star (let alone down to one star), but it’s a valid point.
“This book did racism wrong, and also the characters were too sensitive about minor slights” Ok, so this type of review is the one that really tested me, and boy do I want to pull quotes to show you just how bad these types of reviews are but I’m resisting. This goes back to the first review though, the types of people making this review assume that all races are operating on the same level and that jokes about white people putting breadcrumbs on macaroni and cheese is on the same level as ‘joking’ about a Chinese person eating catfood (both examples used in the book). They’re…. just not. So screw the rules, they’re a moron and this book is too advanced in the cultural conversation for them to understand. They should go back to reading their lily white books and stop trying to expand their minds because it’s clearly not working. As for the idea that the book addressed racism wrong, because it focused on the aspects that the reviewers thought were less important than other issues…. Yea I’m still going with “moron”. The idea that police brutality and the murder of black people isn’t as important as, say, inner city crime is pretty stupid and comes from a place steeped in racism. See, what this reviewer is trying to say is that if black people just got educated and stopped doing crime then the police wouldn’t shoot them. So the issue isn’t that police shoot unarmed black kids it’s that black people just do crime and so the police expect all black people to be criminals and therefore police shooting black people is a natural extension of the fact that some black people do crime. I.M.B.I.C.I.L.E.S.
“This book used bad grammar and black Jesus can’t exist because he was a Middle Eastern Jew and Jews can’t be black. Also the names were weird.” Nope. NOPE NOPE NOPE. THAT REVIEW BROKE ME. I’M DONE. I definitely yelled for a long time in my car about how black Jesus is a cultural thing and Jews can too be black (and not just recent converts, families going back centuries in places like Ethopia) and YOUR name is probably just as basic as ‘Seven’ in some dead language that people don’t speak anymore. WHAT DO YOU THINK QUINTON* MEANS, YOU MORON.
*Random example, but it was the 650th most popular name in 2017, and probably higher if you count the variations on that name.