“She stares at her plush Finn on the floor. ‘I hoped she’d changed her mind before you found out. I should’ve known better though. It’s not like that’s the first fucked-up thing she’s said.’
‘What are you talking about?’
Maya swallows hard. ‘Do you remember that time she asked if my family ate a cat for Thanksgiving?’
Her eyes are glossy. ‘Freshman year. First period. Mrs. Edwards’s biology class. We’d just gotten back from Thanksgiving break. Class hadn’t started yet, and we were talking about what we did for Thanksgiving. I told you guys my grand parents visited, and it was their first time celebrating Thanksgiving. Hailey asked if we ate a cat. Because we’re Chinese.’
Ho-ly shit. I’m wracking my brain right now. Freshman year is so close to middle school; there’s a huge possibility I said or did something extremely stupid. I’m afraid to know, but I ask, “What did I say?’”
As a white man raised in a well-to-do suburb who was isolated from most aspects of urban life until reaching adulthood, there are some common strategies I have come to develop as a reader from my (functionally limited, but slowly expanding) interaction with texts that explicitly deal with race. I long ago learned to step away from the rift that will always exist between my personal background and the disparate backgrounds of the characters that I am reading about, and to approach their stories the same as I would with real people who are trying to communicate the hardship an oppressive sociological force like racism has imposed on their lives and the lives of the people they care about.
They are accounts I find myself fortunate to be able to listen to, often as heart wrenching as they are universal with themes concerning the resilience of love, the virtue of family and community, and the unshakeable human disposition toward hoping for a better future. Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk and Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun come to mind as prime examples from the 20th Century.
Rarely, however, have I found fiction written by black authors so directly endeavor to reach out from its pages and offer so many genuine opportunities to engage its audience in a manner as proactive as Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give (THUG). The quoted passage above represents one such instance and is most definitely the one that resonated with me most. THUG is a YA novel addressed specifically to teenagers of this polarized political age, its prose delicately and simply crafted to be accessible in a way that is uplifting and instructive. I remember being sixteen and yearning to understand what it meant to be good and politically conscience and how best to demonstrate that to others.
To my shame, I did not always succeed. If I had been handed a book like The Hate U Give in high school, and been allowed to have the complex social issue of racism in America taught to me through the protagonist, Starr, through her eyes and her world, I like to think I might have been able to do better sooner. As it stands, I find myself exposed to her later in life, able to appreciate what she might be able to give and inspire in my peers and the generation coming into their own as we speak. THUG is a well-paced, timely novel with a prose style that echoes the best elements of contemporaries like John Green, replacing white pretense, introspection, romance, and melodrama with a thematic toolkit of activism, loyalty, fraternity (in the broad, gender-neutral sense), and family.
Thomas’s voice is spirited and warm throughout, and her characters feel memorable and real. A sense of authenticity and connection is something I have observed white readers in particular struggle with when reading minority-written texts, and I am happy to say that is not something I struggled with in this book. I understood Starr, and more importantly, I feel like she would understand or at least aim to understand me. I may not have ever been in a riot or interviewed on national television, but I have had to deal with parents, grades, BS at prom, evolving friendships, and the feeling I can’t always be my true self around folks. There is plenty relatable in this book, and plenty to be learned, especially for young people.
4/5, A hairbrush is not a gun