I’m just going to make it clear right now that I adored this novel and am rating it 5/5 stars. It’s funny, heart-breaking, relatable and so, so relevant right now with everything that’s going on in the world. It’s a story that needs to be told and a truly fantastic debut in the YA genre.
The story follows Starr, a seventeen year old girl ‘from the hood’ A.K.A Garden Heights. Her life is divided into two parts: the Starr she acts like at her preppy, white private school, and her true self. However her two lives are blown apart when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterwards, his death becomes a national headline. Some are calling him a thug or a drug dealer. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. With pressures facing her on all sides, Starr must decide between what is right and what is easy. She must use her voice to fight for justice, for Khalil and herself.
I found Starr to be a relatable, down-to-earth protagonist who I could easily feel for and imagine myself in the shoes of. The confusing storm of emotions she feels in the wake of her friend’s murder is very believable and deeply painful to read, especially knowing that although this book is fiction, it’s based on true events. Her close relationship with her family members is also at times hilarious and heart-warming to read. I loved her interactions with her dad in particular, who clearly cares a lot for his family and neighbourhood, despite being an ex-con and an ex-gangster.
Thomas has done an excellent job of developing a large and diverse cast of characters, delving into their backstories and humanising them in ways that allow you to understand their choices, even if they’re bad ones. A lot of the book is centred on examining the stereotypes and assumptions people make about ‘thug life’ and the black community — an idea which is very neatly explained by Tupac’s lyrics ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody’.
Too often the media’s portrayal of these communities is one-dimensional, focusing only on the bad without understanding the complex web of reasons behind it. Thomas’ book rightly examines how many of these people, like Khalil, are in fact victims of a system that is already stacked against them and how perpetuating these stereotypes will only continue to worsen the situation.
I also really enjoyed the subtle critique of ‘casual racism’ in this book — how racist terminology has become so ingrained in our culture that we might not even be aware of it. Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend, provides a model example of how not to take white priviledge for granted. His tolerance and sensitivity are a great contrast to Hailey — Starr’s white best friend who keeps making racist jokes and then tries to deny that they’re racist. I thought this was really important, as it shows that racism isn’t just about big flashy news headlines, it’s about the little things too. And as someone who’s been on the receiving end of those kinds of jokes, I felt a sense of validation to know that I did have the right to get upset over it.
Overall, I thought this book was incredibly well-written and authentic. A lot of it is clearly based on personal experience and the author did a fantastic job of bringing Garden Heights and its inhabitants to life. It’s not often I find a YA book that deals with serious issues such as this so well, and I think it really has the potential to make a difference.