Friday, March 16, 2018

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

African American Starr Carter lives in an urban ghetto but goes to a prep school in the suburbs with white students. When she witnesses a friend, Khalil, murdered by a white police officer, she has to decide whether to speak out or not. This story has many themes from family relationships to police brutality to interracial relationships. The author creates an authentic voice in the protagonist with plenty of action and ideas to critique as a reader. Overall, the story is well-crafted with a few long-winded spots. If you want a look into the hood and the issues arising from it, I highly recommend this book.

The protagonist Starr, loves rapper Tupac Shakur, and weaves rap music discussions in with dialogue as a means of explaining oppression within the community. Tupac's father was a Black Panther and embraced Marxist ideology teaching Tupac that the capitalist system was responsible for the destructive nature of black communities. The activism of the Black Panther's is different than the activism that has evolved in hip-hop music. Tupac's songs give autobiographical details of his life that speak about his struggles against violence and unfair odds that are a social commentary on black life. His activism for change is through music; whereas, the author tries to be an activist through her character, Starr, giving a social commentary on institutionalized racism and poverty using ghetto narratives and metaphors.

The rose is a metaphor from one of Tupac's songs. Maverick, Starr's burly father, struggles to grow roses in his garden, but he keeps at it and nurtures them so that they keep surviving as the family moves. The conundrum of ghetto poverty and violence and Maverick's love for the community, his identity, and desire to change it is captured well. The black community has been fighting for equal rights since the civil rights movement while dealing with economic suppression and unequal treatment that makes it difficult to change the cycle of poverty. The only time the gangs unite is when they fight together against institutionalized police brutality. Tupac struggled with the ideology of capitalism knowing that it could improve his life but was also destructive to the black community. Capitalistic systems excluded blacks from participating equally through oppressive measures whether through the justice system or police.

Author Angie Thomas attempts to imitate rap artists, such as Tupac and his real-life street narrative in prose. Jason Reynold's in "Long Way Down" does the same thing using poetry. Derrick Aldridge in the article, "From Civil Rights to Hip Hop: a Nexus of Ideas", discusses how Tupac in the album, "Thug Life", comes to terms with capitalism believing that the underground economic structure of drug dealers, pimps, and gangs of the black neighborhood will always be functional if oppressed blacks are left out of the capitalist system. Because blacks cannot participate in the capitalist world, they turn to drugs and gangs as a way to deal with oppression; hence, when Khalil's grandma loses her job because of side-effects of having cancer he turns to selling drugs to support his family. His mom is an addict and he's trying to support his brother and grandma. Pride makes him not ask others for help and his only economic option is drug selling.

The dad, Maverick, was in a gang and gets out by taking the fall for a robbery and going to prison. His wife is the breadwinner in the family and they make enough money to send their kids to prep school. They could leave the neighborhood but Maverick doesn't want to. The father shows the conflict that many hip-hop artists sing about when they make money and get out of the hood. According to Aldridge, this growing black business class is trying to define strategies for future economic growth that will help these neighborhoods. These artists and Maverick (who runs a store) are now participating in a capitalist system and are trying to figure out strategies for the black community that moves from oppression to equal participation in society.

The interracial relationship between Starr and her white boyfriend, Chris, was a bit superficial for me. I thought "Americanah" and "The Sun is Also A Star" are two books that dig more deeply into the complexities of relationships and different cultures than this book. I am being somewhat nitpicky here and doubt my students would agree with me. Angie Thomas uses their relationship to introduce some of the issues of identity and does try to give it depth - like I said, probably too nitpicky. We are discussing this for book club and I can't wait to get the student reactions.

5 Smileys

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