Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Book Review:  The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
five-stars
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 28th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:   Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.  But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

MY REVIEW

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter, a teenager who is basically caught between two completely different worlds, the economically depressed community she has grown up in and the affluent, mostly white high school that she attends.  In Starr’s mind, these two worlds are incompatible and so she has compartmentalized each and crafted two separate identities for herself so that she can exist in each world.  Although she switches back and forth between these identities with relative ease, she still spends the majority of her time pretending in an effort to fit in.  The end result is that she can’t really be herself and, at the point we meet her, has begun to question if she even knows who the real Starr is anymore.  What brings Starr’s struggle to figure out who she is to a head is when she witnesses her childhood friend Khalil being killed by a police officer during what appeared to be a routine traffic stop.  Protests erupt and soon the shooting garners media attention.  Everyone wants to know what happened that night and some are starting to fill in the blanks themselves, maligning Khalil’s character and referring to him as little more than a drug dealing thug.  Once the media begins reporting on the shooting, Starr’s two worlds collide because now even her rich, privileged schoolmates are talking about it.

Starr, as the sole witness, is the only one with the power to speak up and secure justice for Khalil, who was unarmed and did absolutely nothing to warrant being shot.  Will she remain silent and continue to hide who she really is because it’s easier that way or will she be brave enough to find her voice, step up into the spotlight, and try to get justice for Khalil?

LIKES

The Hate U Give is, by far, one of the most powerful books I’ve read in recent years.  It’s powerful not just because it’s inspired by and shines a light on the the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement and because it exposes the systemic racism that continues to pervade our society, but also because it does so much more than that. It’s a beautifully crafted coming of age story as well, and it’s also a book about the importance of family and community.  Angie Thomas beautifully weaves all of these elements together into a compelling story that hooked me from page one and that I can’t stop thinking about now that I have finished reading it.  I don’t even think I really have the words to do justice to how wonderful a read this is.  All I can say is that it’s one of the few books I’ve read in my life that I wish I could hand out copies of to everyone I come across and encourage them to read it and then share it with someone else.

I tend to measure how good a book is by how many emotions it makes me feel while I’m reading and The Hate U Give is off the charts in that respect.  It made me sad and brought me to tears several times, it made me frustrated and angry, and it even managed to make me smile and laugh a few times along the way as well. I also felt the love between Starr and her family, as well as the love that held her community together.  What I say it’s a powerful read, that’s what I’m talking about.  This book is just so real and honest and raw that you feel EVERYTHING the characters are going through.

I fell in love with Starr right away.  She’s immensely likeable right from the start – funny, smart, sassy, and also a wonderful daughter and sister — and it broke my heart to watch her feel like she always had to hide half of herself in order to fit in.  It also broke my heart to learn that she has already witnessed so much violence and death in her sixteen years.  I mean, seriously. She is 16 years old – her biggest concerns in life at that point should be where she’s going to college, who she is going to date, what color dress she is going to wear to the prom.  Having to decide whether or not to speak out to defend her friend who was shot by a policeman should not be a part of her reality.  The fact that it is the reality for some young people makes Starr’s journey all the more poignant.

Speaking of Starr’s journey, I loved watching her change and grow throughout the novel.  She has some hard decisions to make.  I don’t want to give away any specific details here but I’m just going to say that watching her decide what she’s going to do and then finding her own voice and true self was one of the most beautiful parts of the story for me.

It wasn’t only Starr that I fell in love with though. I loved her family too and I loved how important their role in the book was too.  Her parents are so supportive of her every step of the way and vow to stand by her no matter what choice she decides to make.  Their love, support, and the lessons they have taught Starr and her siblings are what ultimately help Starr make her choice:  “Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared, Starr. It means you go on even though you’re scared. And you’re doing that.”

In many ways I connected with the parents even more than I connected with Starr, I guess because I’m a parent too.  I cried when I read the passage about how there are two important lessons that Starr’s parents taught her and her siblings: 1) the birds and the bees, and 2) how to behave if you are stopped by a police officer so that no harm comes to you.  As a parent, it just ripped my heart out to think there are fellow parents out there who have to teach their kids that second lesson.  As a mom, I have always taught my son that the police are who you go to when you need help.  No parent should live with the fear that their children are in danger if they come into contact with the police.

I also connected with the parents because even when they were at odds with each other about how to best raise their family, I understood exactly why they each felt the way they did.  Starr’s mom desperately wants to get her babies out of this community and into a safer one.  She’s a momma bear protecting her cubs all the way and I was right there with her.  That said, however, I was also right there with Starr’s dad, Mav.  What he said make perfect sense too.  He doesn’t want to abandon his community.  His view is how is anything ever going to change for the better if everyone just leaves and he has made it a crusade to save the community one child at a time.  If he hears of a teen who has gone down the wrong path and ended up in a gang but then wants out, Mav makes it his mission in life to get them out of that life and back on the right path.  I thought Angie Thomas did an amazing job of bringing these real parental fears to life and making it so easy for any parent to relate to and to sympathize with.  Every parent can understand that fierce need to keep their babies safe, whether it’s by moving them somewhere else or by trying to change the community itself so that all kids are safe.

DISLIKES

I have absolutely no complaints about The Hate U Give.  My only dislike is reading the character of Hailey and knowing that there really are people out there in the world like her, who are either racist or just completely oblivious about how hurtful and stupid some of the things they say are.  I cheered when she finally got the smackdown she deserved, although she clearly still learned nothing from it.  I really hope that everyone will read this book and learn from it and that we’ll end up with a few less Haileys in the world going forward.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve barely scratched the surface on why I think this book is so incredible.  All I can say at this point is GO READ THIS BOOK!  It’s eye opening and sobering, honest and raw, riveting and sometimes painful, but it’s also filled with love and hope, and I promise you that it’s one of the most important books you’ll ever read.  Its message will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

RATING:  5  STARS

five-stars

About Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Book Review:  Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
four-stars
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 7th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 303
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

My review:

I have to say that going in, I had no idea what to expect from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I had never heard of the book and the cover just happened to catch my eye as I was browsing at the library – bright red with a headless guy on the front and a stack of what appeared to be OREO cookies on the back. Say what?! Curious and quite amused by this combination of images, I decided to check it out and give it a go.

I’m so thrilled that I did too.  I kid you not – I don’t think I have ever smiled so much while reading a book as I did while reading Simon vs. the Home Sapiens Agenda.  Even now, just thinking about the book again while writing this review, I’m sitting here grinning.

What made this book such a wonderful read for me is that it’s a light and humorous story about love, family, friendship, high school life, and coming out as gay that, at the same time, conveys such an important message regarding the LGBTQ community – namely, that people who identify as LGBTQ are just like everyone else.

Highlights of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for me:

Simon Spier, of course!  Simon is this Oreo-obsessed high school junior who is in the drama club, knows pretty much everything there is to about Harry Potter, has a golden retriever named Bieber, and who is just all around adorable.  Simon also has a bit of a crush on a fellow student who calls himself ‘Blue’.  This budding relationship serves to add an extra layer of depth to Simon’s character.  In what way? Well, because in spite of their growing mutual attraction, Simon and Blue have never actually met face to face and don’t even know each other’s real names.  They met via the school’s tumblr and only communicate with via email using aliases.  Why all the secrecy? Because as much as they like each other, neither Simon nor Blue are quite ready to come out publicly as gay.

Aside from his just overall cuteness and his humor, what I loved most about Simon was the honest and relatable way in which Becky Albertalli portrays him. The first person point of view was key here.  From the first page, you feel like you’re inside the mind of a teenage boy – how Simon can’t wait to rush to the nearest computer and read his next email from Blue and how his brain is on such overload when it comes to Blue that he walks off and absentmindedly leaves his emails to Blue open for the world (or at least for class clown Marty Addison to see).  Once Simon realizes that Marty has the power to expose his biggest secret, and Blue’s as well if anyone were to figure out what Blue’s true identity is, we then go inside of Simon’s mind as he has to decide how to handle Marty.

I really enjoyed how realistically and convincingly Albertalli writes the internal struggle that Simon faces.  There are so many factors to be considered and we get an up close look as Simon goes through all of the pros and cons in his mind. Does he beat Marty to the punch and go ahead and come out as gay?  But how will his family, friends, and other students react? Will they treat him differently? Will he be mocked and bullied?  And himself aside, there’s Blue to consider.  What if Blue isn’t ready to come out?  He’s tormented by the idea that Blue could suffer because of his own carelessness.

Simon and Blue as a couple.  In addition to being inside of Simon’s head while he tries to figure out what to do about this whole blackmail situation, I also adored being able to follow his thoughts when it comes to his attraction to Blue.  It’s a budding high school romance and Albertalli portrays it exactly like any other budding high school romance would be portrayed.  Their flirtations are no different than if the two characters were male and female and I just thought this was so wonderful and so important.  There are still too many people in the world who consider the LGBTQ community as deviant, and this book helps to dispel that mistaken impression.  With Simon and Blue, there is absolutely no sense that they are in any way deviant.  They are just two people who feel a connection and want to explore that connection, and the progression of their relationship is lovely to watch unfold.  Not only are they portrayed as completely normal teens in love, but they are completely adorable.  Even sight unseen, relying on nothing but emails to slowly build their relationship, Simon and Blue are seriously the cutest couple ever.   I loved reading their silly flirtatious conversations, as well as their deeper and more meaningful conversations as they are each trying to decide how, when, or if they should come out as gay.  Albertalli has made these two characters so likeable together and the progression of their relationship so completely natural that I think reading this book could be a mind-opening experience for a lot of people.

Simon’s Squad.  Okay, I’m all about a great cast of secondary characters and let me just say that this book has them in spades.  I simply adored all of Simon’s friends – Nick, Abby, and Leah, and heck even Marty, the blackmailer, grew on me the more I got to know him.

Another quality I really liked about this book is that Albertalli so vividly and fully captures the high school experience, that no matter how long you have been out of school, she transports you right back there.  She is especially effective at portraying the often messy dynamics of high school friendships – when long-time friends suddenly become more than friends, when new friends join a peer group and others feel threatened or jealous because they worry they’ll get squeezed out, etc.   Each time Simon’s circle of friends got shaken up by one of these things, I felt like I was being transported right back in time to my own messy circle of friends. It was very nostalgic for me in that sense.

The Search for Blue:  I had a lot of fun following Simon around and trying to guess which of his classmates might be Blue.  And again, because Albertalli has portrayed every character as typical, average high school kids, Blue really can be anyone Simon encounters throughout his school day.  I loved exploring all of the possibilities, especially as I got to know a little more about each character. And like Simon, I made several incorrect guesses before Blue is finally revealed.

Themes:  I love that, in addition to being such a fun and entertaining read, this book is also filled with so many positive messages in it about love, friendship, family, and community.  I also wish this book had been around when I was in school because I think a lot of LGBTQ students I went to school with would have found this book helpful : 1) in letting them know they’re not alone in what they might be feeling, and 2) in helping them realize that family and friends might be way more supportive than they might otherwise expect.

Anything I didn’t like?

The only thing that comes to mind was that it did take me a while to get used to reading the emails between Sam and Blue. Not because of the subject matter or anything like that, but just because at first, it didn’t feel like they flowed well with the rest of the novel.  Once I got a little more used to the style, it stopped bothering me though.

Who would I recommend this book to?

This is one of those books I would recommend to pretty much everyone from high school age right on up through adulthood, and I’d especially recommend it to parents.  Why?  1) Because it’s a super cute and fun read that I think everyone can enjoy, and 2) Because it’s an important book that has a lot to teach you, if you let it.  Maybe you’re not a student yourself, but you might be a parent with a child who might be LGBTQ and who might go through something like Simon and Blue did.  This book can only help to increase your understanding of what your own child might go through.  As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that Simon could easily be my own son.  So yes, just such an important book on many levels.

 

Rating:  A very strong 4 stars!

 

four-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, releases from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.