Another review of a Book Club choice, 2017’s The Hate U Give. A peek behind the scenes: this one almost got left off the voting, having been popular over the years but as it’s the 30th most challenged book of the decade 2010-2019 and the fifth most challenged in 2021 the argument to include it felt justified. This YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language. Other reasons given over the years include violence, it was thought to promote an anti-police message, and indoctrination of a social agenda. I have thoughts about those that I’ll be holding on to until we book club September 16-17.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Starr is an engaging narrator who straddles different worlds and in unpacking the kind of code-switching life Starr leads, Thomas creates a sympathetic and complex protagonist. The pacing this go through wasn’t great for me, the jump aheads in time took a long time to start and then once they did they were a bit abrupt (but that could also be impacted by my choice to listen to this read via audiobook).
In my review four years ago, I wrote at length about Angie Thomas’s authorial intent where she pulls at the strings of how indoctrinated our society is with the idea that “bad” kids who are acting like “thugs” somehow don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt while the “good” guys who are using “necessary force” must be presumed to be acting correctly. Thomas rightly calls bullshit on that notion as she tears apart that idea by introducing us to Starr, and Khalil, and Seven, and Kenya, and Devante, and all the other characters living in Garden Heights.
Bingo Square: Elephant (as a society America is still largely ignoring many of the topics discussed within, and the fears of this book that leads to its repeated challenges are on their own an elephant in the room.)