“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me.
One was the usual birds and bees. Well, I didn’t really get the usual version. My mom, Lisa, is a registered nurse, and she told me what went where, and what didn’t need to go here, there, or any damn where till I’m grown. Back then, I doubted anything was going anywhere anyway. While all the other girls sprouted breasts between sixth and seventh grade, my chest was as flat as my back.
The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.
Momma fussed and told Daddy I was too young for that. He argued that I wasn’t too young to get arrested or shot.
‘Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do,’ he said. ‘Keep your hands visible. Don’t make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you.'”
Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give” is riveting and brilliant. Thomas shares with us Starr, a teenage black girl living in a rough neighborhood of an unnamed city. Starr is both emblematic of enigmatic in her neighborhood. Her parents, together since they were teen parents struggling to survive, grew up in the same neighborhood. Their commitment and loyalty to their community beats strong, but doesn’t blind them to their ambitions and needs as parents. They send their kids to a private school 40 minutes away, where they are among only a handful of black students in a world of white privilege. Starr herself acknowledges that she lives two lives, has two selves, neither of which feels truly authentic or belonging. When Starr is witness to the brutal murder of her childhood best friend by a quick-triggered cop, her parallel worlds are equally upended.
“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”
Starr must struggle not only with the expected waves of grief, but with guilt, fear, a sense of displacement, and a growing yearning to speak out.
“The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen – people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right.”
Perhaps Young Adult writing, when done well, really is an signal of a story’s universality, of a story we all can understand. In the case of “The Hate U Give”, Angie Thomas’s plain spoken, YA voice is powerful and approachable. It is no frills, no fancy words writing that is stark, poetic, and true. It communicates clearly and undeniably a terrifying, vicious, and uncomfortable truth about ourselves and our country. Everyone should read this book, perhaps particularly those who won’t, those who resist engaging in the fight or who fail to understand the fundamental reality behind the Black Lives Matter movement.