The Hate U Give

The book, The Hate U Give, affected me on such a personal level that I feel changed. I also feel frustrated that my audience is likely limited to the white, safe, conservative community where I live, and they are those will most likely not read the book, or watch the movie, because it’s a “black” story. Is it a political book? Yes. Does it have a message? Yes. Will you feel uncomfortable exposing yourself to this book? Yes. Is all of that wrapped up in a heartfelt, realistic, well-written drama about a family? Also yes. Are you ready to learn about life outside your bubble? I hope so.

The Hate U Give is written from the perspective of Starr, a 16-year-old black girl, who lives in Garden Heights, “the ghetto”, but attends a mostly white private school, 45 minutes away from her house. Her father, an ex-gang member, who runs the local grocery store, and her mom, a nurse, sacrifice what they can so Starr and her two brothers have a chance for a life outside their community when they are grown. Starr sees herself as two people. There is Starr at home, and there is Starr at school. Starr at school makes sure no one can accuse her of being ghetto, and changes the way she looks, walks, and talks to conform. The pivotal moment starts at the beginning of the book, when Starr is at a party in her neighborhood where a fight breaks out. She leaves with her childhood friend Khalil, who wants to make sure she gets home safe. During the drive he is pulled over, and gets into a heated argument with the police officer. While the officer is running his license, he reaches into the car to grab a hairbrush; a hairbrush the officer thinks is a gun, which leads to Khalil dying on the ground, and Starr the only witness to what happened.

The book follows her as she pretends nothing happened at school, and falls apart at home, wondering what she should do, or say. In the process Khalil goes on a public trial, and what Starr sees is that everyone felt he deserved to die. Her neighborhood is up in arms, and she is trying to navigate what is right, with what is safe. In the middle of all this are her parents, who are solid examples of good people, who want the best for their daughter. She can count on them, and has a good relationship with them, which carries her through the trauma, and ultimately her progress from scared witness, to powerful activist.

Classified as a Young Adult novel, it is full of curse words, and hard-hitting violence. There is a tiny romance between Starr and her white boyfriend, Chris, who is pretty naive for most of the story. Rounding out the story is Starr’s uncle, who is also a police officer, and tries to give some perspective on how things work, but ultimately admits that he doesn’t have all the answers either. This is not a book for young teens.

The author Angie Thomas wrote the story as a way to process her life growing up on the wrong side of town, and the parallels she experienced when she broke free of the poverty she experienced. Check out this video where she talks about the inspiration behind the book.

Oh, yes. And I watched the movie. Starr is still the central character and played well by actress Amandla Stenberg. Rated PG-13, the movie tones down some of the language, and a little bit of the violence to make it more palpable to younger audiences. Starr’s emotional turmoil is evident in each scene, with enough humor and love between the characters to get you through the hard parts. The majority of the movie follows the path set out by the book. Starr is with Khalil when he dies, his death sad, and overwhelming, as anyone watching realizes that it will set off a dangerous chain of events.

The visual contrast between school Starr, and home Starr starts to crumble, as she struggles to live in two worlds. Some of the scenes are in a different order than the book, with one main character missing, and the safety of being at Uncle Carlos’ house, only briefly alluded to. However, one of the most powerful scenes comes from a conversation between Starr and her uncle Carlos and how he would have approached the traffic stop, as a cop. And while not spoiling it, the final scene at the end of the riot, is changed dramatically. I liked the subtlety of the book scene, but also felt the impact and reasons for the change.

To do these reviews, I usually watch the last Thursday night showing, so I can write for Friday viewers. Usually, I’m one of many in the theater. Sometimes there are less than 10 of us. For my Ready Player One review, the showing was sold out. The Hate U Give was a solo theater experience for me. I’ve never been alone in a theater, watching a movie that is pulling away every firmly held perspective I had, while also messing with my emotions. When I got up and looked at all the empty seats around me I felt a bit of sadness, and a bit of anger, at all the people who should have been there experiencing it with me.

The book was better, deeper, and richer. The movie is an excellent adaptation.