Wed, 28 Nov 2018
Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to a fatal shooting by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice.
I MAY not be the target audience for this YA book, but I was intrigued after it won such critical acclaim, particularly in the US, and was recently released as a movie - again to rave reviews.
I can see how it would appeal to a younger audience - it deals with teenage angst, typical high school problems, dysfunctional families and coping with the minefield of boyfriends and friendship circles, all told in the first person narrative, which gives it a sense of realism.
Where it packs a punch is in its setting and in the way the book conveys how black people deal with casual racism, for instance in one scene Starr's father is stopped by a policeman for no apparent reason and is forced to lie on the ground and be searched. The aggressive tones of the policeman as he yells “Face down,” his trigger-happy hand hovering over his gun, are completely unnecessary, especially as his 'suspect' addresses the officer as “Sir” and is compliant.
Starr comes from a loving home, but not without its crazy background – she has half brothers and sisters from her parents' misspent youth, but they have now sorted themselves out and want their children to have a better start in life, hence sending Starr and her brother to the predominantly white, private school in the neighbouring district.
She lives in a world of gangsters and drug-dealers, but her best friends at school and would-be boyfriend are wealthy and for the most part white – here Ms Thomas throws in an extra helping of being true to yourself and discovering who your real friends are during the course of the action, and rather appealingly the 'preppie' boyfriend steps up to the plate.
So Starr adopts two personas – one for the rich kids and one for the ghetto, where she grew up. After a party at one of her home buddies, a shocking incident turns the teenager’s life upside down.
Starr now has to play a different game, with her family, her friends and the authorities – it is a huge responsibility on a young girl’s shoulders and the author is able to use Starr as a catalyst for social issues - albeit a catalyst with attitude.
When Starr ultimately decides to testify before a grand jury, the mounting tension is palpable and the jury's decision inevitably has consequences.
Ms Thomas's empathy with the young audience she is appealing to, is I think why this book has achieved success.
Although it is set in the United States, the core challenges still resonate and I can quite see how a global teenage audience would be engaged by the story of courage in the face of adversity. There is a strong moral message and not one living dead, werewolf or magical being – it is all based around man’s humanity/inhumanity to man and how we can get on the in the real world.
If you’re struggling to get your teenage son or daughter interested in reading, then I would recommend this as a story they can identify with and one which could hold their interest. If you have an avid reader in the family and they haven’t already devoured it, then The Hate U Give would be a good addition to their bookshelves. Either way it would make a great stocking filler.
For more book reviews visit https://www.newburytoday.co.uk/section/119/books