This month’s book club pick was Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a novel about a black teenager named Starr Carter who witnesses her best friend’s murder by a white police officer. The book tackles all kinds of issues, including police brutality, racial micro and macro aggressions, interracial relationships, and gang and domestic violence.
We hoped you enjoyed reading along and checking out our discussion questions on Instagram and Facebook. Here’s what Megan and Rebecca thought of the book:
When questioning Starr about Khalil’s murder, the police ask her leading questions to control the narrative of Khalil’s death. How can we demand ethical investigating from our law enforcement?
Rebecca: I think the answer to this question lies in accountability. We have literal camera footage of law enforcement shooting unarmed people of color, and still our justice system takes the side of law enforcement. No one in positions of power are ever held accountable for their actions, and we see this all the time: celebrities avoiding jail time for drug charges that would lock a poor person away for life, scandals concerning politicians fading away with the stroke of a pen on a checkbook, etc. We (especially people in positions of privilege) need to call out inappropriate behavior from law enforcement when we see it. We need to support movements like #BlackLivesMatter, draft petitions, attend rallies and protests, and call our representatives to demand a change.
Megan: I absolutely agree. There’s a complete lack of accountability. The evidence is there, plain as day, but because they want to spin the narrative to say that the victim was goading the officer or whatever, they make it seem acceptable when it’s the furthest thing from it. If we don’t demand the change, the change won’t come. Period.
Starr has a lot of conflicting identities: girl from the hood, niece of a police officer, and black girl navigating white spaces. How does Starr manage to juggle these roles, and which identity is the true “Starr?”
Rebecca: As we’ve seen in the book, it’s hard for Starr to juggle all of these roles. She has trouble adjusting her language depending on where she is, trying to act “black enough” at home and “white enough” at school. I think it’s impossible to answer who the “real Starr” is—I think she’s an amalgamation of all of these intersecting identities.
Megan: I think, in a way, they’re all the true version of herself, like you said. When you’re a teenager, it’s already extremely difficult to find out who you are and each “identity”, if you will, shows a different part of her. She has a lot of different influences and they all add to what makes Starr, Starr. Personal discovering is a huge part of growing up and she just happens to have a great deal more of what’s influencing her.
How do you think a readers’ experiences/identities affect how they read this book?
Rebecca: As a white woman, there is only so much I can understand about Starr’s experiences, and I think it’s important to recognize that. My reading of the book was very different than the reading of a black woman who has grown up in the “hood,” like Starr. A black man will have totally different interpretation. Our experiences have such a vital role in how we perceive other people’s experiences.
Megan: Oh, totally. I fully acknowledge the fact that I am a white girl from the suburbs and have not faced situations in the way that most of the characters in the book have. That doesn’t mean that I’m about to walk around like Hailey and fake protest to get out of class or say that Khalil had it coming. I think this is such an important book, not only for the African American community, but for society as a whole. It really dives deep into what society is doing to degrade people of color and discredit them when they’ve been attacked. It’s a difficult read, but an incredibly important one.
The Hate U Give is the first YA novel centered around police brutality and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. How will this influence YA literature in the future?
Rebecca: I think we’ll begin to see a lot more YA book tackling difficult topics like these. We’re living in a world where media is much more accessible thanks to technology, and it’s easier to find literature written by women, queer folks, and people of color. While I’m sure many people have written about these issues before Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is the first mainstream YA book to do so. I have so much respect for Angie, and her success with this book has proven that young people care about these issues. She’s paved the way for others to talk about things like racism and police brutality in a public space.
Megan: Definitely! In the social media driven world, incidents, sadly not fictional like Khalil’s, like the catalyst in this novel happen and are instantly posted for the world to see. Which also comes back to the accountability of the authorities. We see these incidents occur, hear from credible witnesses, and still that’s not enough. It’s novels such as this that are crucial to understanding what’s going on and working towards a change. We need a real change and if it starts with a book for some people, then that’s how it starts.
Starr promises to “never be quiet” at the end of the novel. How can we use our voices to demand change?
Rebecca: As I mentioned above, we need to come together to support organizations like BLM who are out there doing amazing work. There is strength in numbers, and the more people we can get to rally around eliminating police brutality, the more likely we are to effect change. I think for me as a white person, the most important things are to show up and shut up. Physically be in a space where you can listen the voices of marginalized people without having to put in your two cents. Police brutality and racism are things everyone should find worth fighting for, but it’s important not to use your privilege to invade spaces meant for persecuted folks to have a voice.
Megan: Right. We are fully unaware of what going through that is like, so for us to have certain opinions just isn’t okay. However, to not support our fellow humans, to not use our voice to end something as extreme and antiquated as police brutality, specifically against minorities, is also not okay. We may not understand the personal experience, but we still need to be the change we want to see and fight to stop seeing innocent people killed and then their killers not seek justice because of a shiny badge on their chest.