The Hate U Give (2017), Angie Thomas’ debut young adult novel, explores issues of police violence and racism in the United States. The novel amplifies the message of the Black Lives Matter movement that sheds light on a deep-rooted, systemic problem in American society.
The novel follows 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the murder of her friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Amidst public outrage and a heavily publicized trial, Starr struggles to balance her life between the neighbourhood she grew up in and her predominantly white, suburban prep school several miles away.
With The Hate U Give, Thomas highlights the many instances of police brutality against unarmed black men and women in America, as well as the continued injustice that often results. The novel’s title comes from rapper Tupac Shakur’s concept of “THUG LIFE,” which stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” Thomas emphasizes how early on societal structures of oppression affect the lives of black children. Khalil’s death echoes the fatal police shootings of black children in recent years, including 12-year old Tamir Rice, and 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the latter who died over his height, the colour of his skin, and a pack of Skittles.
The Hate U Give explores identity amongst other themes. The novel weaves in a coming-of-age narrative as it follows Starr in her journey to find her own voice and to accept all aspects of her personality regardless of other people’s expectations. We follow Starr as she undergoes tests of friendship with Hailey and Maya, her prep school friends, and navigates through a relationship with her white boyfriend, Chris.
Thomas incorporates a perfect blend of micro and macro-level themes in the novel. On a micro level, the novel also explores family dynamics and bonds within communities. It also explores socioeconomic disparity within a single family, such as with Starr and her Uncle Carlos, who lives in a house in the suburbs.
The Hate U Give also includes a multitude of pop culture references, emphasizes the ever-expanding power of social media, as well as the increasing involvement of youth in social activism. This is a novel not only for young adults, but also for anyone who holds justice and equality as the fundamental principles of a society.