As you may be aware my friend Kerrie, at Wheelie Stagey, and myself are doing some buddy reads through isolation. Our first choice is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Our first section, chapters 1 – 9, follow Starr after she has witnessed her best friend Khalil shot dead by a police officer. Star and Khalil were on their way home from a party when they were pulled over. Khalil was eventually dragged from the car by the officer and shot, despite being unarmed and posing no threat. In fact, he was checking to see if Starr was okay during the ordeal. Starr attempts to continue as normal, hiding this traumatic experience from her school friends who live in a completely different world to the one she is from. She also has to hide this from her community as it quickly becomes clear that local loyalties and gangs come into play in this situation. Starr is terrified and struggling to cope with what has happened to her friend, and witnessing a death for the second time in her life.
For each section Kerrie and I have come up with some questions to discuss. You can find the full list by clicking here. Read on to find out my thoughts on the first third of the book. Please go to Kerrie’s blog too and don’t forget to use the hashtag #BeauteafulStageyReadAlong to tag us both if you’re joining in.
At the beginning of the book Starr flashes back to her parents having two talks with her as a child. One is about the birds and the bees. The second is about what precautions to take when encountering a police officer. Reflect on that. How is that different from your own childhood experiences?
This part of the book really struck me. It was very upsetting. For a start being cautious around the police is not something I have ever considered or needed to consider. Growing up, I was always told by my parents that if I was in any trouble (i.e. was in any danger), the police were people I could go to for help. Even during my driving lessons no one ever mentioned what it looks like when a police car signals for you to pull over. I have never been pulled over or witnessed anyone else be pulled over. It’s an upsetting realisation that this is not true for everyone, and this is definitely a privilege check for me. This is just one example of many that I learnt something new about cultures other than my own when reading this book. I’ve been left wondering if parents in some communities in the UK are having these sorts of conversations with their children as are undoubtedly happening in the States. It’s completely different from my childhood experiences.
Starr describes the idea that there are two versions of herself. How do her different experiences enhance the story? Can you relate to something similar?
I think all of us can relate to something similar, especially growing up. I certainly know I had a hard time adjusting to fit in to the different circles I found myself in. For me I had a ‘secret’ internet life where I could fangirl in peace away from school bullies. Of course this is different to what Starr is going through, feeling the need to adjust herself because of society’s impressions of her background. I can definitely relate to being a teenage girl and trying to fit in with people I thought were my friends, but I can’t relate to adding cultural differences on top of all that. Starr goes through an impressive transformation in the way she views her own identity. Angie Thomas is able to show this from so many different perspectives due to Starr’s unique position. She goes to a predominantly white private school, and she grows up in a different neighbourhood that is seen by those people as ‘rough’. She is the daughter of a medical professional and an ex-gang member, and she is the niece of a police officer. This allows Starr to provide social commentary on both sides of the debate she finds herself at the centre of; relating to police brutality and race relations. This really helps in teaching me plenty about my own culture too as well as Starr’s situation and navigating her teen years in America.
The success and pitfalls of media and social media is an underlying theme of the book. Baring this in mind, how do you think hashtag culture and internet activism has played a role in our understanding of topics such as police brutality and racism? Is this always helpful?
This is a kind of double edged sword. On the one hand, hashtag culture is the primary method I had of hearing about these sorts of topics growing up. I’m from a small town in the south west of the UK so until I moved to London I had a very limited knowledge of cultures beyond my own with only the media and internet portrayals as exposure. Hashtag culture can be great in raising awareness and spreading a message. With things such as the Me Too movement it’s clear that momentum can be built by a hashtag spreading around the various social media channels. It’s an interesting new age we’re living in when social media can have that kind of influence.
However the other side to that is people simply jumping on a bandwagon, which I think is handled really well in The Hate U Give. Some of the kids at Starr’s school use Khalil’s murder as a reason to skip class. Their reasons for protesting what happened to him are not genuine. This is the danger with internet activism where people are happy to jump on board with the issue for a short amount of time without doing anything productive in real time. Change can’t be made by people with the wrong intentions adding noise from behind a keyboard. Whilst social media is a platform to use your voice, it’s also a way to spread misinformation and hatred.
Starr is deeply affected by this as people who didn’t know Khalil, or know what happened that night, felt able to spread their vicious opinions based on lies and assumptions. Angie Thomas created a very important dialogue about this within her story of deep injustices in society.
What did you learn from the portrayal of societal pressures such as poverty and communities?
Angie Thomas’s Garden Heights Community was so well established and fleshed out with very real and whole secondary characters. I think this is especially important for readers such as myself to learn the stories of these communities that are sometimes governed by gangs. Issues of addiction, domestic violence, gang culture, and community rules are all covered in this story. These issues are often connected and create a vicious cycle that leads into further involvement and often spirals through generations. This book has taught me that it’s not as cut and dry to simply make a choice. Sometimes our decisions are controlled by the situation we find ourselves in and, for the most part, people are just trying to do the best they can for themselves and their families. I also loved how this book showed the beauty of communities outside my very limited white experience. Starr’s family are wonderful. They truly look out for each other and have each others backs. They go to the ends of the earth for each other. They give the kind of support to their immediate family and the family that is their community in ways that I could only hope to experience. These stories are able to be told through the extensive cast of important secondary characters, all of whom are somehow completely fully fleshed out. As I’ve already said this novel is an important learning curve for me.
Let me know your thoughts about this first section of The Hate U Give and come back on Wednesday to read the second part.