Starr’s best friend, Khalil, is murdered by a police officer, in front of her eyes. Khalil, a young black man, is unarmed. The officer, who is white, shoots Khalil in the back. In this electrifying new YA novel, we join Starr, in her fight for justice against the hostile might of the U.S establishment.
Starr lives in a poor inner-city neighbourhood, but is pushed by her aspirational parents to attend school in an affluent white suburb. In order to fit in, Starr adopts chameleonic qualities, and navigates uneasily between both worlds, concealing the darker elements of her home life. Unfolding events will shatter this facade.
After Khalil’s death, the media portray him as a low-life drug dealer, destined for a tragic end. When Starr learns that the police officer will not face charges, her devastation is complete. She realises that she must stand tall and shout loud.
The Hate U Give is a disquieting portrayal of the grim realities of life for some black American communities. Kids being coached on how to avoid both police brutality and cross-fire gang warfare. It also highlights the terrible price to be paid when hard drugs enter the fray.
My favourite character is Mav, Starr’s ex-con father, whose hard-bitten wisdom inspires Starr in her struggle. They discuss black working class oppression. Is it true, Mav asks, that what society feeds us as youth, comes back to bite later? Yes, thinks Starr. Later, Mav is made to lie face down on the ground by a confrontational police officer. His quiet humiliation stays with the reader.
Daddy once told me there’s a rage passed down to every black man from his ancestors, born the moment they couldn’t stop the slave masters from hurting their families. Daddy also said there’s nothing more dangerous than when that rage is activated.
The quality of much contemporary YA fiction is astounding. Starr’s journey from naive acquiescence to radicalised young woman puts this up there with the best.
The Hate U Give is published by Walker Books, 448 pages.