It seems appropriate to start my review about this YA novel discussing prejudices by talking about my own. I openly admit to you all here that I’m prejudiced against YA fiction. I’ve always been disappointed by the simplistic narratives and underwhelming writing on offer in so many popular YA books. I know there are some really good ones out there but the majority are just so obvious, repetitive and dull. I’ve always found it a little hard to accept that so many adults these days are reading Young Adult fiction. I think YA books are great… as long as they’re read by Young Adults. The thing is, a lot of the people who read YA these days aren’t of that demographic. They’re adults. And maybe it’s because they don’t have the time or energy for something more advanced or maybe they just don’t see the appeal of other fiction? I don’t know but I find something a little bit sad about anyone over the age of 20 who reads only or primarily YA fiction. I just haven’t enjoyed very many YA books that I’ve read in recent years. It’s all so immature and simplistic. The use of language just isn’t on par to anything I’d normally read. Still, every so often there comes along a book that I can’t ignore. This was one of those books.
I had always been a bit too afraid to read The Hate U Give because it was one of those super hyped books that nobody gave less that 5 stars. It was the book that focused on the issue of racial profiling and police brutality. The book lifted the lid on the “accidental” shootings by officers that saw innocent black youths needlessly losing their lives. The book that put the Black Lives Matter movement at the centre of the narrative and gives a voice to the voiceless. All things that I could definitely get behind. In almost every aspect it was exactly the kind of book that I would love. But. It was also a Young Adult novel and my history with books for that particular demographic hasn’t been great. So I was happily just avoiding ever reading it until the day I started to get interested in the upcoming film adaptation. Then I decided it was only a matter of time before I was going to read it so I might as well do it sooner or later.
The Hate U Give opens with the death of a teenage boy at the hands of a police officer. When 16-year-old Starr Carter is driven home by her childhood friend Khalil one night her life is forever changed. Khalil is shot by an officer after supposedly believing the teenager was reaching for a gun. Starr knows that Khalil was innocent and that the shooting was a horrendous crime. Starr wants her friend to get justice but she finds herself in a difficult position. When the media begin portraying Khalil as thug, a drug dealer, and a gang member, Starr worries that she will only make things worse by speaking out. Especially when she discovers secrets about her friend that she can’t understand.
The Hate U Give is obviously a timely book that takes inspiration from current events to highlight the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Angie Thomas first wrote it as a short story for her final year project after witnessing the aftermath of the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant. It wasn’t until after her graduation (and more deaths) that she started turning it in a novel. The Hate U Give has been rightly praised for its subject matter and the way it highlights the issues at hand. It is a difficult subject that Thomas attacks head on and isn’t afraid to present for her younger audience. Thomas’ own fearlessness has been highlighted by many. It is a difficult topic to undertake but she manages to do so without sounding too evangelical. There is an evident anger and exhaustion on show but it doesn’t drag the narrative. This is, most certainly, a book that everyone should read.
However, just because a book is an important one it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good one. As I’ve said, I applaud the message behind The Hate U Give and I think it would be a great thing for young people to read. However, I do kind of feel that this book is given a pass because of its purpose. It’s hardly a fantastically written book and it is highly simplified. Both in point of view and use of language. The focus on this book, in my opinion, should be the single event at its core and the effect on the community as a whole. Instead, the focus is on Starr herself and it feels like a weaker book because of it. If there had been more of an episode feel where we saw more of the victim’s family and the community as a whole it would have been a sharper and more focused novel.
As it stands, so much of the narrative is bogged down with pop culture references or descriptions of food. The focus is often on the teenage lifestyle that the murder itself sometimes feel secondary. It is almost a throwaway story that is called-back when necessary but forgotten when it becomes a hassle. And, forgive me, but I can’t help but think the constant references to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Nike trainers was nothing more than a desperate attempt by an older writer trying to sound more youthful. We all know the stereotype of the “cool teacher”: the guy who sits on a backwards facing chair and tries to use the word “dude”. Parts of this book made me cringe. There are subplots that feel weak and underwritten and I would have preferred certain others to be given more of a focus. Then there’s the fact that the bad guy is so one-dimensional. I mean King is so underdeveloped that he almost belongs in a fucking Marvel movie.
There is a danger with a book like this that any literary criticism can become mixed up with a criticism of ideals. Disliking the way this book has been written should not be mistaken for disliking the message it carries. This is a powerful piece of YA fiction but I’m a 30-year-old woman who craves more from my reading material. I’m politically and socially pissed off and I want a book that really taps into the anger that I see in the world around me. The Hate U Give has its own fair share of anger but it can never really get to grips with that. It’s a watered down anger. It’s teen angst anger: Dawson’s Creek anger not The Wire anger. Easier to swallow but it could be more impactful had it been written for an older audience. But, considering this book was meant to impact on the young adult audience then it does it well. It certainly starts a narrative and, for that, I endless applaud it. But I will always mourn for the novel that it could have been.