Pause for a minute and imagine your life at twenty-nine. Have you written a book? Has your debut novel been the subject of a thirteen–publishing house bidding war? Has it made a cozy home among the top ten of the New York Times bestsellers list for thirty-two straight weeks? And has a production studio purchased the rights to adapt it into a film slated for release in 2018?
Not many of us can claim to have achieved that kind of literary success so early, but that’s not the case for Angie Thomas, author of the wildly successful The Hate U Give.
Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Thomas brings a fresh voice to both the literary and social scene. While the book is technically a “young adult” novel, it reads as anything but. The Hate U Give tells the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who lives in a poverty-stricken neighborhood while attending high school in an upper class, largely white suburb on the other side of town. Practically, this splits her day-to-day life into two worlds, which she has managed to keep respectably separate having carefully cultivated the ability to blend into each.
Yet, little can demonstrate the fragility of such a life more severely than that of a gunshot.
While riding home from a party with her childhood friend, Khalil, a police officer pulls them over for what appears to be a routine traffic stop. Moments later, he shoots and kills Khalil mistaking a hairbrush for a gun. Starr is the sole witness to the incident.
It leaves her understandably shaken, but it also pins her under the burden of deciding how to respond. As Khalil becomes the subject of national headlines, Starr finds herself caught between pressures from her neighborhood, her school, and the police, each offering a different interpretation of the shooting. And this is where Thomas’s writing shines. Rather than rendering caricatures, she develops characters in each of these realms that invite the empathy of her readers, forcing us to make the same decision. Starr is torn because her best friends and boyfriend attend her conservative prep school and her uncle is a cop, but Khalil was part of her community, her family.
As news syndicates feature an interview with the police officer’s heartbroken father and report on Khalil’s rumored gang involvement and drug peddling, Thomas presses readers with the question of what lies beneath the way we think about other people. Are we merely the sum of our mistakes? Are we more than the bad decisions we make? Or are our stories more complex and in need of patience and nuance?
The Hate U Give adds an important perspective to a very present topic confronting us today. Playing off Tupac’s T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. code, it offers a healthy caution against our rush to judgment. As Thomas has said previously, “My book is not anti-cop. It’s anti-police brutality; there’s a difference.” There’s also a difference between assumptions and reality. And life is full of assumptions. Every story invites our judgment, and apart from self-induced boundaries, there is no respite from the headlines. With a limited emotional bandwidth, we cannot care about everything. But where we can exercise such care, we must do so with humility and diligence because the story matters.
Growing up in Jackson, Thomas experienced Starr’s life firsthand attending school in affluent areas of the city while living in “the hood.” When stories broke of shootings like the one described in her book, her neighborhood saw it as a personal loss whereas her school community often felt the victim had received his due. There’s no questioning the harmful nature of gang violence, theft, and drug dealing. But in The Hate U Give Thomas forces us to ask a deeper question—what are the circumstances that drive a person to see violence, theft, or drugs as acceptable solutions?
All of us make decisions that carry consequences, but we are more than our mistakes. People are worth more than the assumptions we make based on limited information. Everyone has a story to be told and we would do well to listen.
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Building Your Bookshelf
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Fresh out of college, Lois Clary moves to San Francisco to begin a promising career with General Dexterity, a robotics company committed to exterminating the mundane through innovation. Despite a multi-digit paycheck, Lois finds herself worked thin and longing for something more. So she eats, and in the process discovers a hole-in-the-wall café run by two brothers who provide her dinner nearly every evening . . . until they have to shut down and move. As a parting gift, the brothers leave her with their secret sourdough starter, which mysteriously produces more than simple loaves of bread. Be careful with this book—you might not be able to put it down.
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
Joan often caps off lazy Saturdays by taking her four-year-old son Lincoln to play at the zoo a few hours before closing time. As closing is announced over the PA system on this particular Saturday, she and her son make their way to the exit where they find a man with a rifle who begins firing at visitors. With Lincoln wrapped in her arms, she races into the depths of the zoo where they spend the next three hours doing all they can to survive. More than your common thriller, Fierce Kingdom is an incisive plunge into the unflinching love of a mother for her child.
During the 1920s, the Osage Indians of Western Oklahoma were the richest people per capita in the world. Thanks to the discovery of oil deposits on their land, the Osage lived a life of plenty until they began dying one-by-one, victims of what appeared to be an organized murder spree. Before long, the body count reached twenty-four and the FBI stepped in to take on its first major investigation. Reading more like a thriller than a historical survey, Grann takes readers on an exploratory thrill ride through one of the most overlooked and disturbing mysteries of American history.
Cover image by Kelsey Hency.
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