When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me.The title of Angie Thomas' YA novel is an homage to Tupac's acrostic interpretation of Thug Life (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone), and the book is a call to action against police brutality. In the opening pages, Starr, the heroine is in the car as her friend Khalil is shot to death by the police after a traffic stop. The book tracks her journey as she finds her voice and her place in a hostile, racist world.
One was the usual birds and bees. Well, I didn't really get the usual version. My mom, Lisa, is a registered nurse, and she told me what went where, and what didn't need to go here, there, or any damn where till I'm grown. Back then, I doubted anything was going anywhere anyway. While all the other girls sprouted breasts between sixth and seventh grade, my chest was as flat as my back.
The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.
Momma fussed and told Daddy I was too young for that. He argued that I wasn't too young to get arrested or shot.
Starr is a compelling, thoughtful heroine. She exists in two worlds; her family lives in a neighborhood riddled with police shootings and gang violence, and she attends an elite, white private school 45 minutes away. Before Khalil's death, her need to be one person at home and another at school didn't bother her, but as she watches her two communities react, she begins to feel the strain of a split identity.
This is a thick tome of a YA novel, but I read it in two days. Thomas is an engaging writer and she is able to tackle a brutally depressing topic and make it accessible. It's not easy to read from a content perspective, but Starr is funny and empathetic, and having her as a guide makes it bearable. Thomas's reflections on what it means to be black in America are heart-wrenchingly but also beautifully laid out.
It shook me to realize how rare it is for me to read a book where the bulk of the characters are black, even as I work to read more authors of color. That's part of the point, I realize. Even as a person who engages with social justice and race regularly, this is still a new narrative for me, and it shouldn't be.