I give this book critiquing police brutality and injustice...0.5 out of 5.
You read that rating right. I don't like this book. At all. In fact, I'm not afraid to say it: I hate this book. I think this is the first book I ever read to completion that I've actually hated. I tried reading Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, and I didn't last ten pages before closing it. But I kept hearing about The Hate U Give on various websites and read both the positive and negative reviews for it. I rented it at my local library and read it to see if it was really as good or bad as people have said it is. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to agree with the negative reviews on this one: This book, while it does have a genuinely good message, is just a seriously bad, poorly written, terrible book that makes HUGE missteps in trying to give its message and just being a story in general.
The story centers on Starr Carter, a young girl who lives in two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives in and the fancy prep school she attends, which happens to consist of mostly white kids, save for a few minorities. For the most part, other than a few teenage problems she grapples with, her life is pretty normal...until one day, she watches her best friend Khalil be shot and killed by a police officer in the aftermath of a party gone bad. Not only does Khalil's death traumatize her and change her life forever, it becomes a national headline. People protesting his death are taking to the streets, and others are claiming Khalil deserved to die under the assumption that he was just a no-good thug, or even a gang-banger. It's up to Starr to tell the world what really happened on that terrible night. But in doing so, she may end up putting herself, and her family, in grave danger.
Now, just reading the premise, the book sounds like it could be amazing. Considering the tough topic it tries to address and how relevant it is in today's world, that's a great idea to explore! Unfortunately, there's just so much that holds this book back, completely marring what could have been an interesting, intriguing premise. First off: the prose. It wasn't anything special. It was easy to read, which is fine, but it was mostly very flat and not engaging in the slightest. It absolutely reeks of melodrama and trying way too hard to make me feel for Starr, and it failed very hard in that regard. A lot of it felt like I was just reading a script rather than a book. It also doesn't help that the characters are all talking in slang. ALL THE DAMN TIME! I'd tolerate it if it only happened once in a while, but having every single character talk in slang in every single page?! I'm pretty sure nobody spends their whole life talking in slang. I've met many African-Americans throughout my school years who were very articulate and never spoke in slang, at least not every single day. Seeing so much of it for pages and pages without end just made me want to bash my head against the wall. Also, who the hell says "Bubble guts"? Is that even a real slang word? I've never heard anyone use it!
I'd talk about the characters, but...what's there to talk about? They're pretty much living, breathing stereotypes. The dad was an ex-gang member who slept with a bunch of women and has lots of kids, Starr's the teenager who whines about everything, Chris is her super cool boyfriend, Hailey's the bitchy one, Maya's the nice Chinese girl, and so on. I can't find myself liking any of them, save for Maya and Carlos, who are the only characters worth caring about since they're the most sensible people in the entire cast! Also, the book tries really hard to make me want to sympathize with Starr, but I can't. She's insufferable, whiny, petulant, she constantly jerks her boyfriend around and treats him like crap despite his being a very nice boyfriend, is easily offended by anything and everything, and has a victim complex so big, you can use it as fuel for a hot air balloon. Example: She gets mad at one of her friends for unfollowing her on Tumblr. Do I even need to explain how extremely petty this is? Also, do we seriously need her constantly talking about her Jordan sneakers in every single page? I hear that the authoress likes them too, and that's fine, but there's an art to knowing when to use and repeat certain elements and when not to, and what. Starr's obsession with basketball and sneakers don't contribute anything to the story, and the fact that there's so many passages about them makes the story feel extremely bloated.
Furthermore, everything is extremely over-the-top in this novel. It seems like the story's trying so hard to be dramatic and compelling that it feels it has to shoehorn in so many shocking events in order to make the audience feel anything. Starr watches her friend get shot. Another friend got killed in front of her when she was a kid. Drug lords try to attack the city. Her friend Devante is on the run from a drug lord. Protestors destroy their town in a fiery blaze. None of this stuff happens in a seamless, organic fashion. Instead, the authoress piles them onto Starr and is using them to shout to the readers "BE SAD BE SAD BE SAAAAAD!!!" This kind of thing doesn't work, because so many of these plot devices at once not only bloat the story, but make it a huge slog to go through because there's little, if any reprieve, from all of the craziness going on. If the book had focused on just one or two of these things and not a bunch of them all at once, it would be much more streamlined and way less overly melodramatic.
But the book's biggest flaw? For a book that tries to advocate against violence and racism, it's surprisingly racist. If anyone dares try to call me racist just because I don't like a book, please don't. Not only is that really immature, but it casts you in a negative light. You don't know me. I'm the farthest thing from racist. So many of my dearest friends are a variety of different races and nationalities, and I love them all. But what I don't love are pieces of media trying to present an anti-racism message while making no qualms about having its characters be as racist as possible towards anything and anyone, even their friends! Don't believe me? I found a crap ton of examples to show you:
"White kids love popping pills." Pg. 9
Oh. Since when did taking pills suddenly become exclusive to white people? People of all races take pills or do drugs.
"Now Black Jesus will have to save me if they find out I'm here." Pg. 11
Uhh...last I checked, Jesus wasn't black. Don't make things up.
"Why does it always have to be about race with you?" Uncle Carlos, pg. 53
I officially love Uncle Carlos. Best character in the book. Too bad nobody else can be as sensible and level-headed as him, and it seems like people in the book hate him as well. Seriously.
In chapter 5, Starr goes on this tangent that she has to be two different people: her so-called "hood" self when she's at home, and her "white-school" self when she's at her school, and pointing out all the things she's supposedly not allowed to do at said school that she feels she can do in her neighborhood. Why does she feel like it's a bad thing to be a black girl from a black neighborhood going to a fancy school that has mostly white kids? In this day and age, nobody cares about that sort of thing as far as I know. This isn't the 1950s, where the idea of a black girl going to a school for white kids is somehow a concept that makes people think the pope got pregnant. These days, even interracial couples are very common, so I don't see what the big deal is. Sure, I won't deny that some kids get bullied for being a different race by other kids. Let's face it, kids pick on other kids over everything, even things that are beyond their control. I know Thomas wants us to sympathize with her plight, and in some places, I do. But seriously, every time I read about how Starr's musings about herself and her place among white people, I don't sympathize for her, I feel like she's acting like a spoiled, overdramatic little brat who constantly looks for the bad in everything so she can have an excuse to complain all the time.
"Maya's boyfriend, Ryan, happens to be the only other black kid in eleventh grade, and everybody expects us to be together. Because apparently when it's two of us, we have to be on some Noah's Ark type shit and pair up to preserve the blackness of our grade."
Is Starr's school really like that? I find this really hard to believe. It'd be understandable if this was...I dunno, the 1940s-1960s, but in 2017/2018? I highly doubt it, and I especially doubt that an ENTIRE SCHOOL in the modern day would even think of deliberately trying to pair two black people together like they were some museum exhibit.
"I kneel beside my dead friend in the middle of the street with my hands raised. A cop as white as Chris points a gun at me. As white as Chris."
Really? Really? Your boyfriend is trying to cheer you up and genuinely make amends with you, and all you can think about is the fact that he's white? More than that, you're still fixating on the fact that the cop who shot your friend was white? Lady, stop focusing so much on their skin color, for God's sake!
"But that moment he grabbed my hands and I flashed back to that night, I suddenly really, really realized that Chris is white. Just like One-Fifteen. And I know, I'm sitting here next to my white best friend, but it's almost as if I'm giving Khalil, Daddy, Seven, and every other black guy in my life a big, loud "fuck you" by having a white boyfriend. Chris didn't pull us over, he didn't shoot Khalil, but am I betraying who I am by dating him?"
I'm sorry, but no. Just...no. NO. This sentence alone made me lose any and all sympathy I had for Starr and the book as a whole. Starr, stop being so whiny. You are NOT betraying your family and friends by having a white boyfriend. If your friends and family actually feel that way, then that's THEIR problem, not yours. Quit catastrophizing your relationship with your boyfriend and making it into something it's not! This is my problem with Starr and the book as a whole: It feels like the book is trying really hard to make the reader believe that EVERYTHING that happens in a black person's life has to do with their race. No. No it doesn't. Chris being white shouldn't be an obstacle in a relationship. The cop being white shouldn't automatically make him the villain, even if he did shoot Khalil when he shouldn't have. For example, I'm autistic and I have similar self-esteem problems, but do you hear me whine, question my relationships with my family and friends, and feel like I'm betraying the autistic community by having neurotypical family members and friends? No, because not only does that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, because I can't help being autistic, but doing that will obviously make me come off as whiny, pretentious, or trying to play oppression olympics, and I'm not shallow like that.
In chapter 9, Starr's boyfriend Chris visits her at her family's house to make sure she's okay and apologize for the thing she was originally mad at him about. Because, hey, that's what good boyfriends do, and he's being a really good boyfriend! But Starr can't bring herself to tell him what's wrong, and he's worried and getting angry. What does Starr tell him about why she can't tell him the truth? That he's white! He's white, she's black, he's rich, she's not, and even though he says that doesn't matter, that even though he doesn't understand, he wants to and wants to be there for her. Of all the things she had to use to hide the fact that she witnessed Khalil's death, why bring up their races? She could have told him something like, "It's too personal. I'm going through a lot right now, so I'll tell you when I'm ready. Would you mind giving me some space? I'd really appreciate it. It's not you, it's me." That easy! But nope! It's gotta be all about race! It's stuff like this that makes me think the book is trying to push an agenda, like "white people bad, blacks good and oppressed," even though the supposed moral of the book is that being good and kind is better than resorting to violence and hatred. Also, for those of you about to argue that Starr is having trouble articulating her problems to Chris since his life is different from hers, I present this counterargument: As someone who is autistic and has had plenty of difficulty articulating my thoughts and feelings on certain things in certain ways, I've been in that position. I too have felt misunderstood, and felt like no one understood my struggles. However! People can have trouble articulating their thoughts and feelings without using someone's race, orientation, disability, and so on against them. By focusing solely on Chris's race and rejecting his offers of help and support, Starr comes off less like a girl who's going through a genuinely hard time and having trouble expressing herself, and more like a whiny, self-entitled, egomaniacal bitch with a huge victim complex who always wants to start drama over the stupidest things, even towards people who haven't done anything but try to help her.
"According to DeVante, Chris's massive video game collection makes up for his whiteness." Pg. 284
So apparently for a black person to be friends with a white person, the latter needs to have "something" to make up for their whiteness. Uhh...is anyone forgetting Martin Luther King? You know, don't judge by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? Yeah, I think this book seems to want to do exactly the opposite. Saying someone has to have something to make up for their skin color is like saying autistic people have to have super awesome savant skills to make up for their being autistic, which is not only a really bad stereotype, but makes absolutely no sense.
"White people assume all black people are experts on trends and shit." Pg. 294
No they don't. Stop jumping to conclusions, girl.
Seriously, there's so much in this book, I could go on all day. But one thing that especially threw me for a loop was that in chapter 10, Starr's father has this really crazy, stupid theory that the Harry Potter series is some kind of weird metaphor/symbolism for life in ghetto neighborhoods, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione never snitch on each other, just like gangbangers, and Voldemort is some gang leader and stuff. I'm sorry, but this is absolute crap. Why in the world would he even come to that conclusion about a freaking fantasy book series for kids? Why is he reading so deep into it? It's just a fun book series about kids at a magic school! This just tells me that the characters seem to get off on playing oppression olympics and have such a victim complex that they want to look for things in certain media that obviously don't exist. How does that make them any different from the self-entitled social justice warriors who get off on trying to make everything seem offensive, even the most innocent things?
Also, the book seems to believe that all white people are rich, live in big houses, and don't know suffering. That's not true. There are plenty of blacks who are rich and live in big fancy houses (Anyone remember Oprah?) and there are lots of white people, and people of any race, who are poor, don't have houses, and go through a lot of trauma. Starr frequently cites Chris being white and rich as a reason why they shouldn't be together...and Chris feels he has to apologize on behalf of whites. No. This makes no sense. Your skin color is NOTHING to apologize for. You can't help being born a certain skin color. The fact that the author is making Chris do this makes it very clear that she wants the readers to see blacks as nothing but oppressed and miserable all the time whereas white people are automatically bad, rich, privileged, and so on, which is absolutely not true. This is why people claim the book is racist and can't stand its heavy-handed messages, because ultimately, in the end, everything is completely one-sided, even in its attempts to try to address police brutality. A good book that addresses racism in a sensitive, nuanced way wouldn't go way out of its way to make black people into pitiful little saints who are always suffering and white people into black-hating strawmen, or if not that, people who absolutely HAVE to apologize for being white! It doesn't help that the police officer who shot Khalil isn't even given any sort of character at all. We never know what kind of person he was before the incident, and I would have loved to see part of the story from his point of view, that way we could have seen how he felt about all of this. Not only that, what does everyone do when they find out he's acquitted of all charges? Why, they go apeshit and trash the entire town and completely disregard the law instead of actually working together to convince the court to give the cop some degree of punishment for what he did in a responsible, mature, rational manner. Yeah, real mature, guys. I'm sorry, but that's not a good way to write an anti-racism and anti-prejudice message at all.
And before anyone tries to say "The characters are supposed to have flaws! That's what makes them interesting!" But here's the thing: There's an art to giving a character flaws. Nobody's perfect, I get that. Human beings make mistakes all the time, intentionally or not. Nobody likes an overly perfect Mary Sue who can do no wrong, and that's okay! Characters with flaws, if executed well, can be absolutely amazing. But if you put the character's flaws in the absolute forefront and make them overshadow any good traits they might have, without addressing them in a nuanced manner that'll give readers reason to care about them and their troubles, then you have a recipe for disaster. Since every single character in this book is abhorrent and unlikeable save for only two, you know you need serious help in writing characters. Starr does change over the course of the story, yes, but the worst parts of her personality don't change at all. That's not how to write a character. Seriously.
Trust me, I don't want to hate this book. I really don't. I do applaud Angie Thomas for trying to bring these issues to light in the way she knows how, and if she wants to keep writing, sure! More power to her! More writers are always a good thing, and I'm sure she's probably a great person in real life. But I'm not gonna lie, this debut is NOT one of her better works, and I can only hope that any future books she writes improve with time. I honestly don't think this book deserves all the popularity its gotten, and I'm sure there are books out there that have tackled these issues in a far better, more restrained, nuanced, and substantial manner without trying to glorify or demonize one race or the other. Had this book been written in a less melodramatic manner, its characters less insufferable, and everything wasn't constantly coated with a racist agenda, it could have been amazing. Unfortunately, this is what we've gotten. Should this really be the standard for future books? I certainly don't think so.
Overall, don't give this book the time of day. It's not worth it.