Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Book Review Club - The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas

While I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, the chair of my department, Paula McClain, hired me to be one of her research assistants, caveat - I was the only white person. I had no idea what that meant when I started. I knew what it was like to be a minority. I'd lived in German during Desert Storm, when Germans protested the war, stoned the Kennedy Haus just meters from my apartment. It was the first time I tried to "pass" for someone I was not, namely German. I was afraid to be American.

In the years that followed, while I worked as Paula's research assistant, I had the rare opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. I began to understand how subtle racism can be, and how overt, but missed by somebody white because I only saw the world through white eyes.

I'm still learning. This book is seminal in that process of learning and understanding. Although it's been said a lot before, it's a timely story, one that fosters dialogue, that opens a window into what it means to be African American in the U.S. today. It's a book much-needed by our polarized culture.

Basic premise: Starr Carter, who is from a poor neighborhood and goes to school at a preppy suburban school, is the only witness when her friend, Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer one night. Starr is caught between her two worlds and deciding, basically, what kind of woman she wants to be. How will she handle the situation? Will she speak up? Will she keep quiet? Who are her real friends? Was she really Khalil's friends? This book is packed with so many existential and hard issues, decisions, and transforming situations. Every chapter is a discussion waiting to happen. It's challenged me to re-view the way I see the world, the way I interact with others, the way I perceive.

One of the most interesting craft aspects of this story is the use of language. Thomas moves between the way Starr talks when she's at home in her neighborhood (Garden Heights Starr), to the way she talks when she's at school (Williamson Starr). Khalil's death forces Starr's two worlds to collide, and Thomas cleverly uses linguistic variation and mixing to underscore and heighten the merging of those worlds.

While I worked for Paula, I collected data for updates to her book, Can We All Get Along. It's no easy feat. There are a lot of possible points for clashing. The Hate U Give addresses some of them, and what happens when we refuse to see beyond the easy answers, the stereotypes, when we don't see why those stereotypes may exist, or the role each of us plays in making our culture.  Ultimately, Paula gave me hope. Thomas gives me hope. Because they challenge me to grow and engage in getting along.

For more thoughtful reads this Spring, visit Barrie Summy's website. She's got a bundle!


Lucy said...

Given the current climate we live in, this does sound like a timely book. This sounds like a good book and thought provoking. Great review, thanks for recommending!

Sarah Laurence said...

I almost reviewed this book myself since I loved it, but I changed my mind when I saw on social media that several in the group were already reading it. I also don't usually blog review books on the bestseller list since they're already getting so much exposure. Still, I was pleased to see your personal review. (The switching between white and African American dialects is called coding.)

I had a similar experience as the research assistant to an African American professor of politics gathering data on mayoral races with black candidates. Yes, race matters! I also lived abroad in Kenya and Japan where I was the ethnic minority. In England I assimilate better. That must have been a scary time for you in Germany! I don't blame you for trying to pass as German. I feel that way when people ask me about Trump.

Barrie said...

I just started reading this book a few days ago and am totally blown away by the voice. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I'm amazed (not in a good way) at how much I overlook in social interactions. I think I'm becoming more sensitive..partly because of child #4 who is in a minority in our town. I'm looking forward to getting back to THE HATE U GIVE. Thank you for reviewing!

Linda McLaughlin said...

Oh, this sounds really good! Great review.

troutbirder said...

Seems like a must read. Also considering my five grandchildren two of whom were adoptees from Rwanda and Ethiopia. Still living in a biracial family has both similarities and differences...

Bee said...

I'm sorry that I missed your review last month. It was a tricky time for me. I've read this book quite recently and it really knocked me out. I think it should be required reading for anyone who really doesn't believe there is such a thing as white privilege. Loved the voice so much.