book review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas
★★★☆☆
HarperCollins, 2017

 

It was fine.

I’ll start with what I liked: this book is as important as everyone says it is. It’s an unflinching look at police brutality, told through the eyes of a teenage girl who witnessed the senseless murder of her friend who was pulled over by a cop for a broken taillight. This happens in the second chapter and the majority of the book deals with the aftermath; the guilt Starr feels over surviving the incident and not being there for her friend in the months leading up to it, the tension that exists between her home life (where she lives in a very poor black neighborhood) and her school life (where she attends a private school on a scholarship, which is attended mostly by rich white students). Starr’s narrative voice was wonderfully authentic and this book just provides such a necessary perspective on the racism and violence that run rampant in this country. Having finally read this, I can say I’m genuinely thrilled that this book has become such a cultural phenomenon as well as a commercial success.

But in the interest of giving you the full picture, let’s move onto what I didn’t like. It was overly long and I found the dialogue and the ‘cute’ domestic moments particularly inane. Moments like this caused more than a few eye rolls: “He grins and he feeds her a grape, and I just can’t. The cuteness is too much. Yeah, they’re my parents, but they’re my OTP. Seriously.” I get that when you’re dealing with such a serious topic (especially in YA) you do need moments of levity if you don’t want your book to be a nearly-500-page misery fest, but all of the humor felt shoehorned in. There were so many discussions of Harry Potter and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and meanwhile nothing was actually happening and I didn’t feel bored, necessarily, because YA contemporary reads so quickly, but I did feel a bit cheated whenever the main narrative got derailed for these fan-service moments.

My other main issue was that I would have loved to have seen some more nuance. It’s hard to talk about this in detail without getting into spoilers, but as an example, one of the subplots shows how over the course of the novel Starr comes to realize that one of her best white friends is racist, and I thought this would be a good opportunity for the author to explore the subtle ways that racism can manifest in even well-meaning white allies, but instead the execution was a bit heavy-handed. The kind of racist remarks this girl made toward Starr were… not subtle in ANY way, which made me wonder why she was even friends with her in the first place. And the fact that Starr’s white boyfriend could basically do no wrong added to this kind of weird dichotomy that white people are all either Good or Evil? When in reality the grey area between those two extremes is so much more realistic and would have been a good focal point for this part of the narrative.

But anyway. This is a book for teenagers, first and foremost, and I’m happy that it has been received so well among teenagers, and among adults who read more YA than I do. I hope you don’t take this review and rating as me being dismissive of this book’s themes and its cultural impact; I’m just afraid that it didn’t totally work for me personally. Which is fine, not every book is going to work for every reader. I’m very glad The Hate U Give has found its readers.

25 thoughts on “book review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

  1. I sort of expected the book wasn’t going to be the most subtle of works from most reviews i’ve read.

    Which is a shame. Racism isn’t cartoony, it’s actually rather subtle most of the times (and i say that as a brown hispanic for anyone that cares).

    Racism is structural, it’s in the very fabric of laws and body language. It’s institutional. And it goes “both ways” because of the tensions.

    Whenever i interact with americans in my native country it’s through the added lenses of them being tourists (which add yet another variable). Tldr; it turns into a weird game of keep away where both parties are awkward around each other. Hurray for imperialism.

    Oddly enough it’s less pronounced with europeans (say, germans) but it’s because there’s no cultural animosity there. A german and a puerto rican mangling english is a 10/10 experience, by the way.

    My long drawn out point was that a lot of reviews made me think of think it was rather shallow and “YA’fied”, and this review informs yet again that belief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This was largely my issue… I don’t want to imply that the book didn’t treat the subject of racism with seriousness and sensitivity, because it absolutely did, and the very premise is based on examining how systemic racism and violence led to this one boy’s death. So that was very well done. But you’re definitely right in saying it was “YA’fied” with cartoonish villains, the white friend in particular. I was really hoping that my review didn’t come across like ‘the white character deserves better!!!1!’, and I ultimately think it was right that she was cast in the villain role, I was just dissatisfied that her villainy came across as so over the top. I was thinking about how some privileged and subtly racist white teenagers reading this may think ‘I’m not as bad as that girl, I’m clearly not racist at ALL!’ rather than examining their own behavior… idk.

      Interesting that you say you have more pleasant experiences with Europeans – I lived in Italy once and would not exactly describe it as the most progressive place in the world… but to be fair there’s probably a reason why you used Germany and not Italy as your example 😂 And I think it goes without saying that racism is a massive, massive systemic problem in the US, which is why I’m so glad a book like this has been topping the NYT Bestseller list since its debut… it just wasn’t my favorite book in the world. Which is fine!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review! The more I look back on this with hindsight, the more I feel exactly as you did. I read it whilst The Hype™️ was at its strongest, and realise now that I liked it a lot more in themes and intent than I did in execution. Still, I’m well aware that, as a white, British, 24-year-old male, the book was never going to speak to me as much as others, and it’s so heartening to see the reaction the book has had, given the immense importance of its message.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad I waited for the hype to die down a bit, not least of all because I’d have been TERRIFIED to post this review a year ago 😂 But yes, exactly – I wondered if I should write a review at all given that I’m white and not the target audience age-wise, but I don’t think my Influence as a blogger is THAT big so this review is really just a drop in the ocean. Plus this is mostly a place for me to chronicle how I feel about books on a more personal than objective level. And this is one of those cases where I didn’t even mind that much that a book wasn’t 100% up my alley.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, exactly! Any problems I had with the book itself paled in comparison to my recognition of its merits. Sometimes I read what is to me just an ‘okay’ book, and I wonder why it’s so popular, but with this, I totally got it.

        You were absolutely right to share your thoughts though! As you said, it’s always personal and subjective 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Definitely! I mean, it’s pretty incredible that given the current social climate in this lovely shithole country, that a book like this can top the NYT Bestseller list for as long as this one has. That alone is amazing. And I’ll probably read Angie Thomas’s next book as well.

        For sure… though I may or may not have sent my review to a friend before posting it being like ‘is this gonna attract the Wrong kind of person who disliked THUG’ 😬😂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow what a great review! I really loved this novel (as did most book bloggers, I believe) so it’s really thought-provoking to see a not-so-positive review of The Hate U Give. I do agree with what you wrote about the author not exploring everything as well. The racist friend incident could have totally been explored further — even the concept of diet/light racism!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so kind! Like I said, I’m really really thrilled that so many people have loved this book so much. Sometimes when a book doesn’t work for me personally I’m a bit annoyed about it, but this isn’t one of those cases at all. Since I don’t read a lot of YA I’m clearly not the target audience, and that’s perfectly fine. I gave it a try, I mostly enjoyed it. I do wish there’d have been a bit more nuance, but oh well!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I do think there is an issues in some YA and MG books with making characters only black and white, morally speaking. For instance, J.K. Rowling for the better part of her entire series made all Slytherins evil and after rereading the books, all of them were written the ugliest in terms of physical appearance. She basically put her own characters in boxes and it’s easy for impressionable children to form biases. I will say that in THUG her bf did try to push them getting physical sooner and Starr was unhappy about it, haha. But I see what you’re saying. I can see why Hailey felt like a “symbol” for racist, white people and Chris felt like a symbol for the “still learning, but almost saint-like” white person. Hailey does say some things openly that we don’t necessarily see, but I wonder if the author’s intent was to shine a light on mindsets that are normal hidden or said privately? Idk. It could be blatant because society normalizes subtly when I think about it. Anyway, I like seeing analytical thinking in reviews because it helps to add more perspective. Your review isn’t dismissive at all. I mostly rate my books on personal enjoyment.
    (*whispers* I didn’t like What If It’s Us by Silvera/Albertalli and I feel so bad)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about Chris pushing them to have sex – I’d forgotten about that since it was fairly early on. But the way that ended up playing out also felt like it was feeding into the ‘Saint Chris’ shtick, since he ended up being SO understanding about it, so really his ONE flaw is something that was resolved before the book even started.

      And that’s an interesting perspective about Hailey, that maybe what Thomas was going for was ‘even someone with black friends can harbor ridiculously racist thoughts,’ which is definitely true. The way I was thinking about it, it just struck me as unrealistic that Starr was only JUST opening her eyes to Hailey’s racism when it was as extensive as it ended up being. I think that’s why I had been hoping for more subtlety from that subplot, so I could understand why Starr is just now starting to be bothered by Hailey’s behavior, BUT you do bring up a good point that Hailey may have been hiding it well, and her racist beliefs were only made public in light of the book’s events.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I absolutely rate books based on personal enjoyment as well. I just feel a bit bad when I don’t love a much-adored book that also happens to be as important as this one. I haven’t read What If It’s Us but I don’t think I’d like it either!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t think it would be for me either… but sometimes I’ve gotta just put my reservations aside and give into the hype. While I was proven right re: my personal enjoyment, I certainly don’t regret reading it!

      Like

  5. This is really interesting to read. You know I’m not in the mood to read fiction anymore but reading so many reviews on book blogs, this one has come up often and is so highly praised, I’m always thinking it’s probably one I should eventually try to read. But I can tell just from what you picked out as problematic that I wouldn’t like this at all. The lack of nuance sounds troublesome and I guess, from what I remember from YA fiction, it does tend to be kind of heavy-handed in general but this just sounds unrealistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is one of those books that’s certainly worth reading, more for its cultural impact than anything. I mean, I’m glad I read it, but I’m equally glad that I can put it behind me and move onto books that are more my speed. I find it frustrating that so many YA books are this heavy-handed, because that’s exactly the kind of thing I didn’t respond well to when I was a teenager. I remember HATING the feeling that I was being patronized by an author, and I know that’s exactly how I would have felt with the CONSTANT references to Harry Potter and fandom things in this book, it was just cringe-worthy. I’m always curious if teenagers actually like these fan-service moments…? Because I really did not, but these books are obviously written for teenagers so maybe I was just the outlier…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I read a couple of other 3 star reviews for this book and they’re mostly like ‘why is this book so stereotypical about white people!!!!’ which, ugh, so I did feel compelled to throw my own 2 cents in about the elements that didn’t work for me.

      Like

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