‘The Hate U Give’ tackles race, police brutality and the nuances of being young and black in America

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To read The Hate U Give as a young black person is to stand in front of a mirror.

The No. 1 New York Times best-selling young adult novel thats been swept up under the category of Black Lives Matter books is a true reflection of the life of a young person of color in Americaand thank goodness, because there really hasnt been a mirror like this for people to pore over, well, ever.

Angie Thomas debut novel (the title is drawn from a Tupac Shakur reference) brings us into the life of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old living in a predominately black neighborhood but going to high school in an affluent white one. She is battling issues that black kids everywhere recognize, from code switching to confronting racists to death’s unfortunate and early knock.

At her all-white school she stresses over how much of her home life to share with friends and her white boyfriend, whose lives are full of drastically different worries. By the time we meet her, Starr has already witnessed the death of her childhood best friend. In the aftermath of a party she becomes involved in an incident with police, who shoot and kill her other childhood friend Khalila headline that is all-too-familiar and yet still is painful to read in the pages of a fiction book.

Things come to a head when Starr has to navigate how much she is willing to put herself out there for the sake of Khalils legacy. By staying silent, she is protecting herself and her family but by speaking up, she has the ability to change the course of justice. Its a decision no teen should have to make but Starr does so anyway, leaning on her family and community for support.

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Thomas doesn’t explain everything in Starrs life, which might be one of the most refreshing experiences as a reader. Pop culture moments that wont last the lifetime of the book arent expounded upon, but their inclusion adds a level of comfort to the painful story and reminds you who this book is intended foryoung black kids.

While the intended audience is obvious, this book should also be read by people who have never had to deal with these issues themselves. Thomas manages to show a specific pain that Starr deals with in a humanizing manner that hasn’t really been tackled before so openly, particularly in young adult fiction.

But even more impressively (and necessary), Thomas is able to paint a world that is not starkly black and white, but rather grey. Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a cop, but he still advocates for Khalil. Starr’s father might have been in jail, but he’s a staple in the neighborhood and the peacemaker between gangs. Readers learn that Khalil may have sold drugs, but when the story gets to the “why” about it, it’s heartbreaking.

Stories that I grew up reading about black people in America did not paint such a nuanced picture or reflect the communities that I knew and loved. Despite being fiction, books like this one are a corrective to media coverage that is often one-sided or flat. These dynamic characterswho are similar in age to Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brownmanage to turn a painful lesson into a fight that rings true to black kids defending their rights today.

In The Hate U Give, Thomas shows us that the black experience contains multitudes and her success (the book is being turned into a film starring Hunger Games‘ Amandla Stenberg) is paving the way for even more novels that will delve into race and police brutality.

Which is a relief, because in 2017 we still need so many more mirrors.

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