The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas #Audiobook #BlackLivesMatter

Content Warning: I’d like to note that on Goodreads, several people have argued against students reading Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school due to “sexual content.” I haven’t finished Angelou’s book, but her description of her rape is not graphic: “The act of rape on an eight-year-old body is a matter of the needle giving because the camel cannot.” I feel that if people argue Angelou’s book is “too graphic,” then The Hate U Give is, too. Both books have murder, the n-word, threats to kill/beat someone, gangs, and sexual feelings/situations.

the hate u give

The most bangin’ book in young adult literature in recent years, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give has won all the awards and is being made into a movie. But it’s young adult, which isn’t my thing, so I didn’t read it when it came out it February 2017. However, this month my book club chose The Hate U Give, and seeing it was 444 pages, I almost died. I’m not a quitter in book club (typically), so I found it on audio and listed on my commute to work.

Starr Carter narrates the book in first-person. She’s a convincing teen character. I especially felt “old” when she said people would “give dap.” I don’t know what that means. Is in the new “lay some skin on me”? The novel is summarized in a way that suggests two major plot conflicts: 1) the conflict Starr feels as a black girl living in “the ghetto” going to a majority white prep school about 45 minutes away, and 2) Starr sees her black friend shot by a white police officer.

Starr’s parents are more interesting than Starr because they have complex histories that led them to their current place. Starr is still “becoming”–one of the key reasons I don’t read YA. Her father was in a gang and landed in prison, meaning he missed all of Starr’s “firsts.” Later, he bought a store in “the ghetto” that serves people in the neighborhood. At one point when Starr’s mother and father had a fight, he visited a prostitute, which resulted in a son. Starr’s mother got pregnant with Starr as a college student, so her mother disowned her (to some extent), meaning Starr was raised by an old woman in the neighborhood, who refused to let Starr’s mom quit school because she had a baby.

The voice actor, Bahni Turpin, tried so hard to make the kids at the prep school sound and act as white as possible, which was confusing when I realized one Starr’s best friends is Chinese, not white. The kids talk about how microwaving PopTarts is “a crime” — Angie Thomas’s attempt to make white kids seem carefree, vapid even, in contrast to black kids who worry they’ll be murdered by police. Thomas may be right.

But Turpin made every kid sound like Cher from the hit film Clueless (1995), or Buffy’s friends in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992). The problem is The Hate U Give is set in 2016 or 2017. Turpin’s attempts to make white kids sound stupid, boring, and “other” were embarrassing.

clueless
“As if?!”

Starr’s white boyfriend, Chris, raps the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air whenever Starr is mad with him because it’s their show, and they’ve seen every episode. Turpin reads the rapping like Ikea instructions. It actually takes effort to make that rap sound boring; Will Smith’s work is not so challenging that white people can’t get the beat. I don’t think this was Thomas’s intention because later we learn Chris creates his own beats/music, and Starr likes its old school quality. I would have liked to heard a talent like Regina King as the voice actor. She brings tons of life to Huey and Riley Freeman, both black boys, in the TV show The Boondocks. Turpin couldn’t make any of the male characters sound different. If Starr’s dad, half brother, and a gang member were all in the same scene, they were indistinguishable.

regina king
Regina King

While the synopsis for the book suggests the story will be dramatic, The Hate U Give is also really funny. I love when Starr’s eight-year-old brother, Sekani, says he’s too sick to go to school, but when her dad leads the family in prayer that morning, her dad says, “Thank you for Sekani’s miraculous, sudden healing that just so happened to come after he found out they’re having pizza at school today.” After the father finishes the prayer, Sekani complains, “Daddy, why you put me on the spot like that with Black Jesus?” Though a child, he is a memorable character.

Because I have a background in black lit/history, I caught Thomas’s many links to other time periods and artists. Case in point, Black Jesus. While historians have always questioned the true race of Jesus Christ, African Americans began creating art works of an undeniably black Jesus around the Harlem Renaissance. Malcolm X also repeatedly preached that black Christians are so brainwashed they pray to images of a Jesus who doesn’t look like them, but should. Granted, I can’t assume this is what Thomas was trying to do, but it’s there.

Another example: when Starr’s dad opens his store five minutes late, he gets an earful from an older gentleman who owns the barbershop next door, and a reminder that he hates how Starr’s dad has changed things:

“The store used to open up at five fifty-five on the dot,” he says. “Five fifty-five!”
It’s 6:05.
Daddy unlocks the front door. “I know, Mr. Lewis, but I told you, I’m not running the store the same way Wyatt did.”
“It sho’ is obvious. First you take down his pictures–who the hell replaces a picture of Dr. King with some nobody–“
“Huey Newton ain’t a nobody.”
“He ain’t Dr. King!….”

I was reminded of “Buggin’ Out” from Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing. He questions why the local pizzeria, owned by an Italian-American man but located in a black neighborhood, can’t have pictures of black leaders on the wall. Instead, the wall has images of famous Italians. I appreciated these little historical callbacks.

buggin out
Buggin’ Out looks at the “wall of fame” in the Italian-American’s pizzeria

Overall, I can see how The Hate U Give helped readers talk about complex race issues: whether to riot, which leaders to look up to, to be silent or speak, if black people can trust the police (even black police officers). But Starr spent a lot of time crying and panicking (rightly so), and it made for a long listening experience. She repeatedly stated her dead friend’s life mattered. And she’s right. But as a listener/reader, going over the same emotional triggers over a dozen times — and this is not hyperbole — made me exhausted. But maybe that’s the point.

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37 comments

  1. It isn’t easy to write about such complex issues, so I give credit to Thomas for doing so. And, even if it may not be narrated to perfection, I do like the contrast between the white kids at the prep school, and Starr’s life experiences. It makes for a stark statement.

  2. 400 pages seems long for YA – even if fantasy series go on for thousands. I have two questions from half a world and two generations away: Why is she going to a white prep school? To get a better education? And why the quotation marks around ghetto – because it’s not a ghetto or because that’s not the right term for a poor black neighbourhood? I guess a third question would be is Huey Newton a hero to young black people now, or is that impossible in an education system controlled by middle class whites.

    • Another YA novel I read recently, Dumplin’, was also around 400 pages. I’m not sure why they tend to be so long. Starr goes to a mostly-white prep school because her parents, who don’t want to leave “the ghetto” because they feel like they would be running away instead of fixing their community, also recognize that black communities often have access to fewer resources, including at schools. Their three children go to the prep school to get a better education. I put quote marks around “the ghetto” for a few reasons: 1) that’s what Starr calls it, 2) white people often say it in a derogatory way, and that’s not how I mean it, and 3) sociologists have argued that one way to stop an area from being a “ghetto” is to quit referring to it as “the ghetto,” which carries a stigma in the U.S. Of course, the basic definition is the word ghetto is a segregated area, which used to be applied to different ethnicities but has since been co-opted to mean “poor black slums,” which is a limited picture of the community. Finally, Huey Newton was Starr’s dad’s hero. In the novel, he’s about 38–that’s a bit young to be a direct follower of Newton, who let the Panthers in the 70s, but one thing we talk about in the U.S. is how after the deaths of people like Malcolm X, Dr. King, and leaders of the Panthers, no new leaders have risen. Thus, people naturally turn back to heroes who are before their generation. I would argue most student-aged people today have no idea who Huey Newton is. The Black Panther Party scared white communities, so they’re still viewed as villains. Even Malcolm X is skipped over in most public education curriculum. Kids learn about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” but that’s about it.

  3. I loved this book and I’m not a habitual YA reader either. I thought it did a great job of dealing with many of the key racial issues happening right now in the US (and Canada too) in a way that would appeal to teens of all races. I’ve seen people of all ages reading it and hopefully it’s reaching some people who wouldn’t normally read this type of fiction/topic.

  4. It certainly entered into many debates! I thought the part about Starr’s dad being an ex-convict and her mother getting pregnant in school were interesting, not to mention Uncle Carlos, the black police officer. I liked the book, but I felt like I could tell places where the voice actor wasn’t reading the story how the author intended. That threw me off.

  5. It’s a pity if the white kids are all shown as vapid – I never see that denigrating white people helps black people, any more than denigrating men helps women, etc, etc. And while the issues are obviously different, not all white kids lead carefree lives. Oh, for us to get past the stage where every second book feels it has to make “points” about race or gender. I’m so glad I’m not a YA! πŸ˜‰

    • I only read YA when my book club picks it. In the last, oh….18 months or so, they’ve chosen about 4 YA novels. The Hate U Give is definitely an issues book, which is strange to read back-to-back with Whiskey & Ribbons, which is populated by African American characters but NOT about race. Just this morning, I realized that one of my favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote and published in the 1930s in the United States, was heavily criticized by other black authors because she WOULDN’T write about race. This may be part of why she died in obscurity and her works went out of print until Alice Walker brought Hurston back into the public eye.

      Also, for my YA fans: why ARE pretty much every young adult book an “issues” book. Don’t young adults just want to read books about being a young adult? Must they save the world, change the nation’s collective conscious, etc? It’s a weird question to ask on the day of March for Our Lives.

      • Yep – I seem to remember wanting to change the world too (still do!) but I didn’t want to read about issues all the time. I was at school and college learning about tough stuff all day long! In my leisure time I wanted to be entertained. I’m far more likely to read about issues now than back then, though even at that it needs to be done subtly…

        • I think a smart way to write an “issues book” without making it an issues book is to write about people from all spectrums: genders, sexuality, races, nations, able/disabled, she’s, etc. And just have them living their lives. To give unseen people a stage on which to live is amazing. They don’t need to take on the globe. For some, being alive and happy is a radical act.

  6. Hm. It seems like the narrator for this one didn’t quite convey what I think the book was trying to convey. Although…I did feel a little bit like the book was at times a blanket criticism of white teens. But I am not sure if there was an authorial message at work about white teens being clueless and uncaring, or if that was simply how Starr sees them. On the whole, however, I think Thomas did an excellent job of discussing the issues without seeming preachy. She wrote a story with compelling and realistic characters who happen to discuss hot-button issues–not a book that is just a lesson disguised as a story.

    YA novels have been increasing in size since Harry Potter demonstrated to publishers that teens will read longer books. Before there were page limits, but now it seems anything goes. The other day I was trying to find a shorter teen novel for a new reader of YA. He wanted something shorter so he could ease in. Well..everything seems close to 400 pages these days. I really didn’t know what to suggest to him.

    • I may be way off, but I feel like when I was a teen, the books were shorter, but the writer was more challenging (meaning the vocab and sentence structure). The YA books I’ve read recently (granted, I’m not a devoted YA reader!) have been written how teens today talk, which isn’t as challenging. Thus, it seems like older YA books COULD be shorter thanks to the language.

      I agree with you about what you said about white teens looking so silly to Starr. I appreciated how hard Chris tried at every step. He admitted he didn’t get it, he wanted to listen, he wanted to try. When I read the comments from activists on Twitter and in articles, they constantly note that it’s the white community’s job to listen, learn, and then act better. Isn’t that what Chris was doing?

      • That could be. Definitely YA works like The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, and even Feed are shorter than most of the YA published today. And I have had some readers remark that A Wrinkle in Time had some difficult words. No one’s said that to me about The Hunger Games, for instance.

        I think Starr’s bf is the one white character she gives credit to for trying. I’m not really sure what makes him different to her than the others. Yes, some of the other white teens say dumb things. However, it seemed to me that Starr could have listened to them and engaged with them. I understand that it’s not her responsibility to “educate” everyone she meets, but these were her friends and it does seem like we have a responsibility to listen to our friends and to attempt to see where they are coming from and then maybe help them see a new perspective. The people who are close to us aren’t the same as, say, any old person on Twitter saying something ignorant.

        It is difficult for me to understand how we expect people to change if we also refuse to engage with them. Ignorant people typically don’t see themselves as ignorant and thus wouldn’t be likely to go and educate themselves without anyone to help prompt them. So this is something I struggle with, the idea that we should leave people who say thoughtless things completely alone…. How do we effect change when we also do not see it as our duty to engage? Whose duty is it to engage?

        There was a bit of a sense that “all white people are the same” that Starr was giving. But her friends no doubt come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different cultural backgrounds, different religious backgrounds. To paint them all as “privileged white people” does ignore some of the nuance of their situations. I assume the book didn’t address that because the book wasn’t about different types of privilege or prejudice. though. It could have been an interesting conversation for Starr to have, but maybe the author saw that as taking away from the conversation she really wanted to have?

        Interestingly, I work with many under-privileged individuals and many racial minorities, and they tend to advocate for a more…I don’t know the word…,but maybe a less politically charged understanding of race and privilege? Many of them, for instance, will say basically, “We’re all the same. We’re all human. We all deserve respect and love.” They’re less invested in determining who has more or less privilege and more invested in seeing everyone as the same. So…I guess I’m now thinking of the book through that type of lens and wondering how some of these individuals would react to Starr and her perspective. I think the current political stance is that the idea of “we’re all the same” is naive, but I’m also trying to be a good listener here, so, you know, whom do I listen to at this point if there is disagreement?

        • Here is a good example: several years ago, I was in an MFA program. A woman whose parents were from China had graduated a couple of years before me. We ended up working at a local college together. We weren’t super friendly (she’s a stand-offish person in general), but sometimes she was very supportive. On Chinese New Year, I asked her a question about the holiday on Facebook, knowing full well that I could Google the answer but instead wanted to engage with her to show that a holiday from her and her family’s culture wasn’t invisible. She chewed me out, saying I was too inept to Google basic information, and that it’s not her job to teach me and others like me about her culture. I believe she later apologized, but I’ve since severed all connections to her. I think what a lot of minority groups get tired of is explaining the same thing repeatedly and then having the listener argue with them. I think even pointing someone who asks to a resource–a book or website–and saying “thanks for your interest” is a good way to answer the person, get rid of them, and help them educated themselves.

          • I think one of the nice things about engaging with people rather than Google is that 1) I can’t always be sure a source is credible online and 2) I can’t always be sure that what Google says is how my friends celebrate/ view something. If I am asking my friend or someone I know a question, I am often trying to say that I value their perspective and would like to hear their thoughts rather than assume they believe what the Internet says. For instance, you could walk up to a Catholic and they might love Pope Francis or think what he is doing is crazy. They might attend the Latin Mass or be okay with going to a guitar Mass. Google can’t speak for everyone!

  7. Like you, I haven’t picked up this book because its YA, so I’m glad I got to read your review first! I had no idea this book was so long, 400 pages, wowza.

    That’s too bad the narrator wasn’t great, I can imagine how that would seriously damper the experience of an audio book.

    It sounds like the issues raised are at least shown in some complexity-even for a YA novel, I’m glad they didn’t make everything ‘black and white’ (pun intended) ya know?

    • Definitely. There is a scene in a car in which four black teens and one white teen have experienced some heavy stuff together, but then they start asking each other questions about their differences. I think it’s a strong novel that would get teens to start talking, but I would highly recommend the written version over the spoken. I never realized a voice actor could add so much interpretation to a work before I listened to this book. I mean, I KNEW, but I didn’t know to what extent.

  8. This book gets a lot of things right, but it stumbles here and there. We see excellent examples of role models and of social villains in the adults. The children and teenagers read like kids. I feel like the climactic speech Starr gives doesn’t quite rise to the occasion and that there is a bit at the ending that feels tacked on, but this book is a good primer to get one thinking about a number of relevant situations. Inequality exists, even if you do not see it. Your words have consequences, even years later. The book explores how there may not be a happy ending to a story, but that there can be an ending that includes some happy things. I saw a lot of what the author was looking to do in this book and I appreciate the message, even if it did seem to lack depth at times. But that’s YA for you, right?

    • It’s strange, but I want always feeling her emotions. Maybe it was the voice actor. Maybe it was the repetition. Maybe it was the length of the book (444 pages). I had so much access to Starr’s feelings that her speech on the car didn’t move me either.

  9. I don’t usually read a lot of YA, but i read this last year and really liked it. I can see how the wrong audio narrator could ruin it, or almost ruin it, though. I LOVED Starr’s family – they were my favorite part of the book. I think I appreciated this book (and its success) for what it represents: more voices at the table, hopefully reaching (young white) audiences that may have never considered these kinds of issues or may never have had a protagonist they could empathize with in this situation. The upcoming movie version will inspire even more people who don’t usually read books to pick it up, which is a good thing.

    Also, there are still plenty of YA books out there about things other than “issues,” I see them all the time at my library, and they get checked out. But I think this generation of kids, the post-Millenials, they are more aware of issues than perhaps any other generation of the modern age. They are all over social media all the time and they’re having to face things I never dreamed of facing as a high schooler: gun violence, climate change, etc. So I think publishing right now just mirrors real life for this generation.

    • Those are all good points. Thinking about how I felt too close to Starr because I was in her head, I’m thinking the movie will be even better!

      Are you a librarian, Laila? I forget. I’d like to know more about what kinds of requests you get from teen readers. I agree that social media has made them less narcissistic than my generation. I’m the Daria generation: completely wrapped up in ourselves with no hope. One consequence of the current generation and the influence of social media is some students are stubborn because they think things they don’t like are an issue of not arguing enough instead of being wrong. I heard on NPR today one of the Stoneman Douglas teachers said her students are determined. She gave the example of students who wants an A but earned a B+ trying to persuade the teacher to change the grade. That’s not how that works. It’s a balance they’re still trying to learn: when to use their voices and when to listen. It’s all really interesting to me.

      • I am a paraprofessional (branch senior assistant) in a public library. I don’t have a masters so technically I’m not a librarian. Honestly, our branch sees more young kids and middle grade readers than teens. But the teens I do have regularly are into sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian books mostly, with a smattering of realistic fiction.

        I agree, that is interesting to me, what you heard on NPR. I can see it. I know that personally I haven’t felt as hopeful about real change re: gun laws in America as I have since the Stoneman Douglas kids started speaking out. They inspire me!

        • I want to feel hopeful, but my conservative relatives have really amped up the Facebook memes since the March for Our Lives. Stuff about how last week teens were eating Tide pods and now they want to reform the constitution. Stuff like that. In general, I feel down about ignorance. One thing making me feel more hopeful is my county is having a read-along sort of thing with a book about immigration. There are plenty of events that match the theme, so I hoping we’ll all be more tolerant in my county for a while. The book is called The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande. It’s memoir.

          • More and more I think Facebook is only good for making you feel bad… oh, and stealing your private info, ha ha! I’m slowly weaning myself off of it. That’s cool about your county readalong! I hope the events are well-attended!

  10. I loved this book and I could NOT put it down, I agree it is funny as well as issues-led and I found it very readable. I don’t do audiobooks but my husband has certainly had books spoiled for him by a dodgy narrator! More when I’ve done my own review, I think.

      • Yes indeed. And thank you for giving me the courage to write up my own review. Of course now lots of people have read it and no one has commented and I’m worrying I’ve said a terrible wrong thing in it. Because I do mention my “in” into the massive theme of the book being some people have to have special lessons in what to do if a police officer stops you – I always get stopped and searched at airports, esp travelling with my husband, because we look “mediterranean” (we both have some Iberian heritage but a long way back) and it’s wearing but also frightening (I’ve had a machine gun trained on me while being patted down before, eeps). I in no way up-play that or down-play POCs’ lived experience, however.

        And I’m so glad I got your warning about the narrator because I really want my husband to read this and usually he would do that with an audiobook but in this case I’ll divert him away from that!

  11. I was a little surprised to see you had read this one, but it made sense that it was a book club selection. Are you happy you gave it a go? Do you think it would have been better in a different format? It sounds like the audiobook narration was off.

    • I’ve REALLY been thinking about this hard. I just don’t enjoy YA lit, but I want a good reason why. I think I’ve realized it: all the YA books I’ve read lately, thanks to book club, are in 1st person pov, so I’m spending 400+ pages (because YA is LONG) in the head of a person who’s still developing, still looking for love and 16, still giving people they don’t like the cold shoulder. Even when the writing is engaging, I find the ideas are not. I’d rather read about the same issues from an adult perspective, even better with a 3rd person narrator who will allow us into multiple characters’ thoughts.

  12. It sounds like you might have liked this better if you had read it rather than listened to it, is that right?
    My daughter has read this, but I haven’t. I keep thinking I should, but, like you, I don’t really enjoy reading YA. I have read some, and even liked some, but for the most part I find them… simplified? Most of the time I like to be challenged in some way when I read – and I find YA too easy to read. I worry about saying that because I know a lot of people love YA, but I think it’s just a preference thing, not a quality thing. Even some adult books that feature a younger generation can get on my nerves.
    I think I’ll watch the movie. πŸ™‚

    • No, I agree with you about the I don’t read YA. Also, it tends to be in first-person point of view, meaning I’m getting a simple version of the story though one young person’s eyes. I MIGHT have like a paperback version better.

  13. First of all, for what it’s worth the phrase give dap is from the Black Panther movement. It’s any sort of non-verbal communication between groups of people for greeting or celebration. In fact, the reference to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reminds me that even those characters give dap regularly. Just one of the random things one picks up during their life.

    I will admit, when I saw this posted as a review, I was a bit shocked that you had read it. But I get it; book clubs are important! πŸ˜€ I’m sad that audiobook fell flat. Lately, Ive gotten more and more picky about my audiobook narrators. I just cannot handle narrators who don’t understand the context of the book. Like the inability to recite the opening rap to Fresh Prince?! Come on! Make some effort. A poor narrator can completely ruin a book. I refuse to stand for it anymore.

    Do you think you’d have a different experience reading this in a physical book form? Are you glad you took the time to finish this book?

    • I’m not sure I would have felt a ton different about paperback versus audio. I’m just not a fan of YA. I’m very determined to finish books when I start them, and since this was an audio book I listened to on a long car ride, I didn’t feel I had a ton of options that led me to not finishing.

      I thought dap was a new thing tied to a song or dance move. It kind of looks like a football player thing? What is that move called?

      • I can relate to that. I’ve definitely listened to my fair share of audiobooks I would have DNF’d in any other situation than a car ride. I just can’t imagine driving 9 hours listening only to the radio or myself talk. O_o Sounds terrible. So yes, at least I now know to avoid Blackstone audio, too. πŸ˜‰

        XD You’re talking about DAB. Dabbing is a dance move. Why do I know this? Because the football player in question is Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, which is a sports team my family adores. Again. Weird brain knowledge.

        But, then again, I haven’t read this book yet, so I could be mistaken. Perhaps it’s something entirely different?!

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