Having won numerous awards and being voted Best Young Adult Fiction on Goodreads in 2017, I was hearing a lot of buzz about “The Hate U Give,” which is the debut novel by Angie Thomas. When I picked it up shortly after Christmas (thanks to all my family and friends who got me Indigo/Chapters gift cards) I didn’t know much about the book, other than that it was supposed to be really, really good! This should have been red flag number one, because any time my expectations are set too high, I’m always let down, but there were so many rave reviews that I put aside my doubt and decided to pick it up and give it a try. Also, I don’t typically enjoy young adult fiction so that should have been warning sign number two, but anyway here we are.
The book is set in an undisclosed (from what I can tell) town in America. It starts out with the main character, Starr Carter, a young black girl who straddles two very opposite lives – she resides in the underprivileged “projects” so-to-speak, but goes to school at a fancy private school and hides her more “black” identity from her white friends. One night she’s hanging out at a party when a fight breaks out. She has to leave quickly and gets away with an old friend she hasn’t seen in a while, named Khalil. Right off the bat Khalil and Starr are pulled over by a white cop and Khalil gets shot and killed.
Now, for some reason, none of this captivated me; especially because this happens within the first two short chapters, I wasn’t really shocked and hadn’t yet been able to identify with our main character, Starr, or empathize with her in any way. But perhaps, now that I consider it, this might be the entire point of the book; it shouldn’t matter if we can identify with someone or not, to decide whether the murder of an innocent black, or Indigenous person in Canada, is right or wrong. No matter our status in society, we should all care about justice and equality in cases such as this. Morals should not apply to a certain class or race. Within the book the author specifically tries to hit on several important themes in a very obvious manner but this wasn’t apparent to me until just now.
I didn’t finish the book. I only made it about halfway and even then I had to force myself because the entire book itself felt forced to me. Perhaps because it was written as a young adult novel and therefore had to be a little bit more censored, while simultaneously spelling out every theme and action that the main character was taking, I’m not sure, but it didn’t feel as real to me as it could have. Even The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill felt like a real, lived experience and that book was about slavery so there’s no way Lawrence Hill could have been there to witness it in person. However, with The Book of Negroes I could literally feel the emotion pouring through the page in that book, whereas with The Hate U Give, I couldn’t feel the connection.
One barrier that prevented me from connecting with the characters and the events that took place was the writing. In the same way that Room bothered me because it felt as though it was written by a six year old boy, The Hate U Give bothered me because it felt like it was written by a 16 year old girl. There were some absolutely cringeworthy lines, and I didn’t like how Thomas tried to write in the voice, accent and dialect of a young black teen and her family, because this effort felt flat and inconsistent to me. Also, it’s really hard to read and pay attention to what’s happening when you have to continuously go back and make sure you read that last passage properly.
There’s just some downright cheesy lines that made me cringe so hard I actually had to stop reading. One example is an exchange between Starr and her dad that goes something like this:
“Good.” He gets the grapes out of the refrigerator. “You still got that old laptop? The one you had before we bought you that expensive-ass fruit one?”
I laugh. “It’s an Apple MacBook, Daddy.”
“It damn sure wasn’t the price of an apple.”
It damn sure wasn’t the price of an apple? I don’t know about you but I don’t know anyone who talks like this, or who is the young father of a sixteen year old girl who doesn’t know what Apple is? That to me sounds like something someone from the 19th century would say as opposed to a young father raising 3 kids.
At the end of the day, this book just wasn’t my cup of tea. I can definitely see the importance of it, but would prefer a book where the themes weren’t so blatantly in your face, and where the pacing allowed for more character development and backstory. Unfortunately, I think this book has scared me off of reading Young Adult Fiction anytime soon. I’ll stick with my biographies, memoirs, historical fiction, classics and contemporary thank you very much.