Banned Book Club: The Hate U Give

By London Alexander

Hello to everyone returning for another compelling edition of the Banned Book Club, and welcome to those who are joining our in-depth discussion for the first time! This month we’re diving into the captivating novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book has sold more than 3.5 million copies all around the world and has been translated into 35 languages. It has earned numerous accolades, including the Coretta Scott King Honor and the William C. Morris Award, and was on The New York Times young adult best-seller list for more than 80 weeks! The Hate U Give has even been adapted into a movie starring Amandla Stenberg and Regina Hall, with a 97% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, with all this praise surrounding the powerful story, why has it been banned in libraries and classrooms in counties across seven states? According to Marshall University, in 2022

Thomas argues that the novel offers a balance of nuanced Black perspectives on policing through characters who are conflicted with their views. The representation in this novel is crucial because “of the 5,894 instances of book banning between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2023, 37% of books dealt with characters of color or themes of race/racism.” It’s important to read books that center on marginalized characters to develop empathy, learn about different perspectives, and understand the adversity that their communities overcome. 

The Hate U Give is a masterfully written novel that follows its Black protagonist, Starr, as she struggles with her identity while spending her time between living in a poor neighborhood and attending an elite, mostly White private high school outside of the city. She witnesses the senseless murder of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer, creating an internal struggle between speaking out about the brutality she experienced and remaining silent to protect her reputation as the rest of the community resorts to public protests and riots. The story is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the police shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009.

Although many challengers of this novel cite a perceived “anti-police” theme, Thomas creates a world of characters that are more layered than just being “good” or “bad.” Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a Black police officer who helped raise her while her father was in prison. Uncle Carlos is the bridge between the world of the police and the neighborhood where Starr’s family lives. At first, he tries to explain to Starr that the officer involved in the shooting of Khalil was adhering to protocol—to defend himself against a physical threat. Throughout the story, Starr opens up more and more about the trauma she witnessed, eventually explaining that Khalil was holding a hairbrush, not a gun, as the police officer believed. Uncle Carlos further learns that the officer pointed his weapon at an unarmed Starr. This leads to Uncle Carlos’ suspension for confronting the murderous policeman. Uncle Carlos is the perfect character because, although he’s both Black and a police officer, he doesn’t pit the two identities against each other. Instead, he displays human emotions and reactions, understanding the pressures of being a policeman and the need for police brutality to be abolished. Those who look to censor this book believe that the story perpetuates the idea that “police are bad,” while the novel actually presents the idea that people are layered with much more nuance. Thomas expresses this theme using a cast of complex characters.

Starr’s White boyfriend, Chris, is an effective representation of how a White person can support other racial communities and combat the prejudice that interracial couples face. Starr and Chris are judged at school for not being the same race, while Starr is also criticized at home for not dating a Black boy. Chris, however, slowly (very slowly) earns the respect of Starr’s protective father by attending the family barbecue, getting a firsthand view of their impoverished neighborhood, and participating in riots to demand justice. Chris respectfully asks questions to Starr’s family and friends about Black culture. He contrasts with how the other White characters react in the story, including Starr’s friend, Hailey, who presents microaggressions such as believing it’s okay for her to make racial jokes since she isn’t racist and unfollowing Starr on social media because she doesn’t want to see memorial posts regarding Black people murdered at the hands of cops. Hailey and the other White students engage in performative activism by using Khalil’s death as an excuse to cut class in the name of a protest instead of advocating against police brutality. 

Starr fears speaking out about the incident because she doesn’t want to be misrepresented by the media. She tried to avoid mixing her two identities, never believing they could coexist. She didn’t want to be labeled as a “girl from the hood” at school while also avoiding being seen as “whitewashed” in her neighborhood. However, she becomes increasingly frustrated at the injustice reinforced by the media. News outlets stereotype Khalil as a Black criminal and justify his murder by perpetuating racial prejudices. Starr learns that allowing people unfamiliar with her neighborhood to control how the world sees it is generating a false narrative and hatred. Harmful stereotypes and unjustified fear develop when people assume the worst of a city they’ve never experienced. Citizens on the outside judge a locality based on their news stories, which are often the most extreme cases, rather than an understanding of the unity of townspeople that sustain the neighborhood. “That’s the problem,” she says. “We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re not gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

The Hate U Give has catapulted into the canon of young adult literature, providing an important look into the racial turmoil that the United States faces today. It captures an ongoing epidemic of microaggressions, racism, and senseless murders of Black people. This novel teaches readers about the nuances of the human experience and how educating yourself about marginalized communities develops understanding and empathy. Most ideas in life are not simplified into two perspectives, instead, there are many layers of comprehension and interpretation,a as expressed in this story. Your compassion becomes stronger once introduced to these notions, which is why Thomas encourages booksellers to “shine a light on books by marginalized authors…[and to] provide kids with books that are as diverse as they are.” 

Continue discussing banned books with us next month as we read The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake. After heart transplant surgery, Sunny refuses to take life for granted, so she explores reconnecting with her long-lost alcoholic mother, old friendships, and emerging new feelings for another girl. We’ll be discussing why this book has been challenged, same-sex representation in juvenile novels, and the importance of presenting possibilities for young girls. 

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