The thing with “The Hate U Give” is that it’s supposed to be fictional, but this story is not fiction in the slightest. The things Starr experiences, what happened to Khalil, are real, they do happen, they are still happening. Which makes this book so hard to both read and review because it becomes really difficult to separate fiction from reality. Which is probably the point. Starr witnesses not one, but two of her friend’s violent murders. Even though the focus is primarily on Khalil, Starr grew up no stranger to violence. The opening chapter is her at a party that she has to flee because of shots being fired. This is Starr’s reality; she is torn between the community she grew up in and being “black enough” to fit in to these types of parties, and then the preppy, very white private school she attends where she can’t be “too black”. Even though Starr is not a real person, her situation is not fictional. Neither is Khalil’s where, no matter what, he should never have been murdered by a cop. Which is why I do think that this book is very important to read, I just don’t think it’s all that appropriate for younger YA readers.
The first half of the book (after the first 2 chapters) was hard for me to get into, not because of the message or the horror that Starr witnesses, mainly it was kind of slow and some of the contemporary aspects don’t age well as trends change. I also found Starr’s school to be overly stereotypical, and a lot of the characters to be rather hypocritical, especially where Chris is concerned. The idea that sending Starr and her siblings to a different school to keep them safe when the violence they witnessed wasn’t centered at their school didn’t always track with me, either. But that’s not why I’d hesitate to give this to a younger reader: this book is heavy. “The Hate U Give” focuses on more than just police brutality, it focuses on addiction in a community under siege from a very active drug dealer and his gang, there are also instances of abuse against kids and adults, and that’s on top of the utter devastation that is Starr’s grief during her tremendous ordeal of trying to get justice for Khalil. It’s just something to keep in mind when you are considering having your younger readers pick up this book.
The character dynamics are all messy in a very real way, and I really enjoyed that. Every relationship is complex, important, and rewarding in its own way. But I really loved Starr’s family, and how Starr pushes back against Kenya when she keeps dismissing that Seven is Starr’s brother too. I also have siblings where we share a dad and not a mom, so Starr’s feelings over Seven and his relationship with his other sisters and how that made Starr feel was beautiful, and also important. Honestly, this book is full of important messages beyond just the main plot line! It’s a very complex story line in that regard with a lot going on (another reason this may not be great for younger readers).
For as much as is happening in this book with subplots and complex topics around race, family, and friend dynamics, there may have been too much going on that required deeper focus. The ending was both disappointing and beautiful. It’s realistic which is really sad and infuriating, but then you have these sprinklings of hope and a type of happy ending for Starr with Mav finally listening to Lisa about what was best for their family. Plus there is closure and new beginnings for Starr and her friends, as well as what will become of Garden Heights. All of that gets wrapped up in just a few chapters which felt too quick given the importance of those subplots. So it left me feeling… confused. Which, like I originally said, makes this book so hard to review because the story structure wasn’t the best in my opinion, but the fact that many of the topics in this story are not works of fiction… It’s really that first half of the book though that keeps me from loving this novel as much as I wanted to. This story is powerful, it needs to be told and to be shared and discussed, just like all the other books (fiction and nonfiction alike) that discuss these topics. Just some tell the fiction side of things better in my opinion, which is why I'm giving it 3.5 stars.
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