The Hate U Give may be categorized as a fiction novel but make no mistake, there is nothing fictional about it. Yes, Starr, Khalil, Seven, Maya, Devante, Big Mav, Lisa and Kenya don’t actually exist but their story does. Starr is a sixteen year old girl who lives in the hood but goes to school in private school in the suburbs. Her worlds could not be different. Over Spring Break, her best friend Khalil gets shot and killed by a police office during a routine traffic stop and Starr is the only witness. Starr must reconcile her own feelings about what she witnessed and the realities that come with it while also coming to grips how it effects her two different worlds. It gets thrown into sharp relief how her family and neighbors think what happens versus what her friends at school do. Starr grapples with her own fears and find her own voice to stand up for what rights, stand up to the authorities and her own friends too. This book is heartbreaking because it’s a story that we have seen played out too many times in the last couple of years. Khalil was unarmed when he was killed. Yes, he did sell drugs and had involvement with gangs but none of those facts should be justification for what this officer did. You could replace Khalil’s name with Michael, Philandro, Tamir, Tayvon or any other young black men unjustly killed by law enforcement and you would go through the same emotions. Angie Thomas does a brilliant job of outlining all the many view points about this issue. From Starr’s father, a former gang member and ex-con who is far to aware of how the justice system works to Hailey, Starr’s rich white friend who is willing to protest only because it got her out of class for a day. As the reader, we see what happened and how it happened at the beginning of the book. We know it was unjust but since the other characters weren’t there, we get to see how they process it through how they relate to Starr. They accept or deny it depends mostly on their own socioeconomic background and yes race plays apart of it too. Starr’s family of course understand immediately that Khalil did nothing wrong and that Starr did nothing wrong. They also know that because of the neighborhood that they live in it could be dangerous for Starr to speak out even if can help bring him justice. Whatever her decision, they always have her back. The first thing that really struck me was when Starr and Khalil were pulled over, Starr goes over in her head how she is supposed to act when interacting with cops. She says when she was 12 her father told her to do as the officer says, don’t talk unless spoken to and keep your hands visible. She was told this at twelve. Meaning that her parents thought, even as young as twelve years old she could be in danger. I tried to think if my parents and I ever had a talk about what to do if I got pulled over and I don’t think we ever did. Why would we? We are white, there is no reason for cops to look at me or my sister and assume we were up to no good. That we were criminals. That we could be dangerous but Starr’s parents and many black parents have to worry about that for their kids. That is truly heartbreaking. Two of the most interesting characters, okay maybe not the most interesting are Chris and Hailey. Chris and Hailey are both white, privileged and rich. Chris is Starr’s boyfriend. They share a love for sneakers, basketball and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He at times is completely oblivious to their differences. He doesn’t notice or bother him that people stare at them when they walk down the hallway. He wouldn’t say he was racists and most people would agree with him but because of his own privilege, without even realizing it he sometimes falls into the insensitive thinking. He doesn’t understand why Starr is so upset with him or just in general but when she tells him he does try to understand. He wants to be supportive to Starr and that means challenging his own misconceptions and that’s what makes a good ally. Hailey also wouldn’t call herself a racist either. She would be one of those people who says, “I’m not a racists have a black and Asian friend.” Throughout the book she makes insensitive comments and try to pass them off as jokes. When she gets called out on she gets defensive. “It was a joke” “I didn’t mean anything by it” “I can’t believe you would think I’m a racist” Even demands for Starr to apologize to her. She makes absolutely no effort to see Starr’s point of view or acknowledge that what she said hurt her feelings. When she does apologize, it isn’t because she sees what she did or said was wrong it’s that she wants things to go back to what they were before. Since I assume there are going to be a lot of young white readers of this book, Chris and Hailey are important because they may not be able to relate with Starr and her family but they probably can relate to either Chris or Hailey, whether they want to admit it or not. I hope they take a hard and close look at both of those characters and ask themselves some uncomfortable questions. Are they more like Chris or like Hailey? This novel really should be required school reading. Not just because it was well written but also because it does outline all the point of views and how much it should be it’s not just black and white but shades of gray. Only be listening and understanding what people of color and marginalized communities are saying and owning up to our prejudices will we able to end this. So one day, we won’t have to teach our children how to act in police presence and police won’t make snap judgments about civilians based on skin color.
Beth and I have both finally gotten our copies of March in the mail, and I started reading it at breakfast this morning! This couldn’t be a more pertinent read. As I am sure you have seen, Senator Elizabeth Warren was officially silenced for the rest of the hearing on whether to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. She was silenced for reading out part of a letter written by Coretta Scott King to the chair of the judiciary committee in 1986 on Sessions’ possible appointment to a federal judgeship. Warren was officially silenced for, ‘breaking Rule 19, which forbids members from imputing to a colleague “any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”‘ (quote from NPR.)
In the letter, King writes about the march from Selma to Montgomery in the letter, setting the stage to discuss subsequent actions designed to deny people their right to vote. She writes, “I was privileged to join Martin and many others during the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965. Martin was particularly impressed by the determination to get the franchise of blacks in Selma and neighboring Perry County.” You can read the letter in its entirety here.
Volume one begins with Lewis’s early life; we won’t get to Selma until volume 3 (I believe). It is not often that we read historical pieces that are so immediately relevant as we read them.
For this post, I’m not going to ask discussion questions. So, please feel free to comment with your first impressions of the graphic novel. Are you reading along with us? Have you started? How do you feel about pet chickens? We look forward to hearing what you have to say in the comments.
This February Beth and I are going to be doing something we’ve talked about but haven’t yet done. We’re going to be reading a book together (or, three books as the case may be). Starting February 1st, we will be reading March by John Lewis. This award winning book tells the story of Congressman John Lewis’s coming of age in the Civil Rights movement. We invite you to join us in this reading. As we read, we will be posting our thoughts and open-ended questions. We hope that you will join us for the reading and some discussion.