As it is Black History Month, we think back on the influential leaders and activists who have made this painful but rich history important. We have grown up learning about leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. In recent years, victims of racism have left their own influence: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice.
An activist is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “a person who believes strongly in political or social change and takes part in activities such as protests to try to make this happen.” The deaths of these victims helped spark the Black Lives Matter Movement, igniting the flame of activism across the nation. Their tragic stories inspired Angie Thomas to finish writing her first novel, something that originally started off as a short story for a class project. The protagonist in her debut as an author, “The Hate U Give,” can be added to this list of influential members in the Black Lives Matter movement. For however fictional she may be, the issues Starr Carter is confronted with feel all too real.
Carter is a 16-year-old black girl living two separate lives. In one of them she is “Williamson Starr,” and in the other she is “Garden Heights Starr.” Williamson Starr refers to her private school, where she is one of few black students, and Garden Heights Starr refers to the gang-run area she and her family live in. Carter balances her two lives until one day she sees her unarmed childhood best friend, Khalil, get shot by a white police officer. The tragedy sends Carter and her family into a whirlwind of court hearings, emotions and turmoil. Carter desperately wants Khalil to receive justice. The power of her words could ultimately clear his name of all the derogatory terms that are coloring it within the media.
Although this book is categorized as young adult literature, it’s a read for all. All the characters are authentic and vulnerable — the issues they deal with are unfortunately very real for black and other minority communities across the nation. Thomas does a fine job of making sure Carter’s journey is not preachy, and she adds other narratives from Carter’s family and friends that tie the story together while giving it a sense of depth. This novel makes readers take a step back and consider a different perspective on police shootings.
The most intriguing part of Carter’s world is that it’s truly a combination of her black and white life. She has a white boyfriend, a close white friend and an uncle who is a police officer. On the other hand, Carter’s father is an ex-con who served three years for his involvement with drugs. Thomas crafts a conversation between the father and daughter duo to enlighten readers in a down-to-earth way. Carter’s father explains Tupac Shakur’s concept of “thug life,” an acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F**** Everybody.” It explains how black lives are set up and how kids like Khalil fall into the drug scene. The scene takes place early in the novel, but it resonates throughout it and long after you’ve shut the book.
The reason Thomas’s debut is so impactful is because there isn’t a happy ending. Despite the honest testimony and stacks of evidence, the officer is not convicted for the murder of Khalil. The lesson Carter and readers have learned along the way will propel the next generation of activism and awareness. And perhaps the most important lesson of all can be taken from this quote of Carter’s: “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
“The Hate U Give” is an eye-opening book I recommend to people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. In a time of political turmoil and racial tension, this novel is not only a beacon of clarity, but a needed reminder of the most powerful tool we possess: a voice.