I read this book by Angie Thomas almost as soon as it came out. At one point my mom asked how I had heard about it and I couldn’t remember. I think Goodreads. I seem to remember it was getting some buzz there shortly before it was released, some of my friends had already added it to their “to-read” shelves, and I thought the concept was interesting.
FYI: the title is taken from Tupac, who said “Thug Life” stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.”
The book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s about a 16-year-old black girl, Starr Carter, who lives in a poor, inner city neighborhood, but attends a white prep school in the suburbs, roughly a 45-minute drive away. It’s hard enough to balance her two lives (at home she’s not “black” enough and at school she’s not “white” enough), but it gets even harder when she witnesses her best friend, Khalil, get shot to death by a cop. Khalil and Starr were both unarmed, but the cop (she refers to him as One-Fifteen because that was his badge number) still holds his gun on Starr between killing her friend and the arrival of the ambulance.
Khalil’s death makes national headlines and the white kids at Starr’s school even protest on his behalf. Although when she finds out they were just looking for an excuse to cut class, Starr continues to attend class, even when she’s the only student in the room.
Starr didn’t do anything wrong and she’s not charged with any crimes, so she doesn’t have to tell anyone her side of the story, but she’s pressured to do so. The cops want justification for what One-Fifteen did and activists want the world to know what really happened.
That said, speaking out is much easier said than done and I think the book did an excellent job of recognizing that fact. On the one hand, Starr is the only one who can tell people what really happened, and as one of her friends points out, Khalil would have done it for her in a heartbeat. On the other hand, speaking out means putting a target on her back for the people who would rather she stay quiet. She gets death threats, her house gets shot at, a brick is thrown through their front window, and her father gets harassed by the cops. She feels responsible for all these things, but she also feels responsible for Khalil. He can’t speak for himself anymore so she has to speak for him.
Starr has a few conversations with her dad about whether she should speak up and I loved those parts so much. On the one hand, he knows it’s the right thing to do. On the other hand, he knows it’ll put her in danger and he wants her to stay safe above all else. He’s very conflicted and at no point does Thomas downplay those feelings with which he is wrestling.
The other thing I loved about Mr. Carter was the one thing over which he fought his wife: whether to stay or leave. Mrs. Carter wants to move to a safer neighborhood to protect their children, but her husband doesn’t want to abandon their neighborhood to violent gangs. Both sides have an excellent point. People in tough neighborhoods who move up in the world, also tend to move out, which does nothing to improve those neighborhoods and even exacerbates the problem. On the other hand, how can you argue with a mother trying to keep her kids safe?
Racists who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement have called it an anti-police and cop-hating movement. I think the stupidity of such a stance goes without saying, but unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. Those who don’t see it (and even those who do) should read this book because I thought it handled the topic beautifully. Starr’s uncle is a cop, so she sees both sides. She doesn’t hate cops and she knows they just want to make it home safe, but that doesn’t excuse shooting an unarmed boy in the back.
I also loved her insistence on calling him One-Fifteen. Even after she learns his name she refers to him by his badge number because it forces him and the rest of the police department to be accountable for what he did. But it also relegates him to a number rather than a human, which is all white people have been doing to black people for centuries.
I also liked how Thomas dealt with Starr’s decision to participate in one of the riots. Starr knows it’s not helpful, and might even make things worse, but she’s angry. She’s only human and we all get angry and do irrational things sometimes, so it was very believable. Starr was lucky to make it out alive with her friends, but it was a close call.
I have absolutely nothing in this book to criticize. It is absolute perfection.
What did you guys read this week? Anything else inspired by current events?