Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give (2017) (8/28/17)
The hero of the story is Starr, who is sixteen, well loved by her extended family, smart and savvy. Her father is a grocery store owner, though in his younger days he got mixed up with a gang and served time in prison (which allowed him to leave the gang); her mother is a nurse. They live in the black part of town. Her uncle is a police officer, and her aunt, a surgeon, who live in a nearby upper-middle-class mostly white neighborhood. These people are all intelligent and ambitious, working hard for a better, good life.
Starr's parents decided early on to send Starr and her two brothers (on scholarships) to an exclusive private school, also mostly white. This complicates the story in a useful way, for it lets Starr show her readers a range of stances—what she calls code-changing—that help her to fit in wherever she is. Her boyfriend is white, which allows for some interesting observations and altercations, and her girlfriends—who show themselves by the end to be variously "true"—are black, white, and Asian.
The plot gets going with a party in Starr's "hood"—which her parents would not approve of her attending, if they knew. She bumps into an old friend, Khalil, who ends up driving her home. On the way, they are stopped by a police officer. Khalil is shot and killed—a car door is opened, a hairbrush mistaken for a gun—with Starr the only witness.
"When I was twelve," Starr relates as the cop pulls them over,
my parents had two talks with me.Rival gangs and drugs muddy the waters: these people are no strangers to the violence of their own community. Or the oppression (a different sort) by police.
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. . . .
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-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do," he said. "Keep your hands visible. Don't make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you."
I knew it must've been serious. Daddy has the biggest mouth of anybody I know, and if he said to be quiet, I needed to be quiet.
I hope somebody had the talk with Khalil.
Starr ultimately realizes that she must speak up and out—that her voice is her most powerful weapon. Telling the truth about what happened, and what continues to happen, is what matters most. Not that that's necessarily easy. As her mother tells her, "Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right."
The book's title is from Tupac Shakur's "Thug Life" (a code of conduct—something he created in 1992 while negotiating a truce between the Crips and the Bloods in East L.A.—as well as the name of his band): short for The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody, meaning—as Khalil puts it—"what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out."
Here's a video of Tupac speaking about all this:
And here's a summary of the Thug Life code, which resonates strongly with the overall message of Thomas's book: