Out of the novels I’ve read this year, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was hands down the most compelling. If you’re looking for a fearlessly honest novel about the horror that is police brutality, the stunning brilliance of young black girls, and the enduring power of community, The Hate U Give is for you.
Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.
What did your process look like while creating The Hate U Give? In other words, are you a morning writer or evening writer? Did you type in cafes, libraries, or at home? Give us a look at the setting in which your words came to be.
I applaud people who write in the evenings because I cannot seem to do it for the life of me. When I wrote The Hate U Give, I was working full time at a local church as a secretary to a bishop. Between answering calls and scheduling meetings, I worked on this book. (My former boss does not know this haha. Please don’t follow my example unless you absolutely can).
The Hate U Give contains a variety of worlds that conflict and coexist in splendid detail. For example, you show Starr spending time in her neighborhood, as well as the upper-class suburb where kids from her private school live. You’ve also got Starr’s father who managed to get out of a gang, and others who did not all interacting. What was your purpose for including such a variety of diverse intersections, both of communities and people, throughout your novel?
When I first got the idea for the book, I was a lot like Starr. I attended a private university in an upper-class, mostly white neighborhood. It was only ten minutes away from where I lived, but those ten minutes made a world of difference – my community was known as “the hood” and was notorious for all the wrong reasons. At the time, the Oscar Grant case was all over the news, and because my two worlds were so different I heard two different takes on it. In my neighborhood, people were outraged. At my school, on the rare times it did come up my white classmates didn’t understand why people were upset. I was frustrated and disappointed, and the only way I knew how to express myself was through writing.
I think (or hope) a lot of people can relate to the struggle of existing in two different worlds. I know for black people in particular, code switching is a survival technique. I wanted to show that sometimes code switching isn’t just about choosing your words or how you present yourself, but trying to decide if you should be silent or not. That’s a struggle on its own.
You’re a big Tupac fan, so much so that the title for your debut was taken from one of his songs. How did his music influence your novel and your writing in general?
Tupac influenced just about every aspect of this book in some way. (Even Starr’s name). I may catch heat for saying this, but when I was younger, I related to his music more than I related to books. He told the stories I could actually see myself in. One thing I love about Tupac is that there were so many sides to him. On one hand, you have the “Keep Ya Head Up, Dear Mama, Changes” Tupac, and on the other hand you had the “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted, Hit ‘Em Up, Hail Mary” Tupac. He could make you smile, make you laugh, make you think, make you cry, make you angry, and rile you up. He was versatile. That’s probably the biggest influence he gave me as a writer and particularly for this book – yeah, it’s sad, but (apparently) it’s also funny. It’ll make you angry but hopefully it will give you some hope. I want to do that with all of my books.
Starr thinks a lot about using her voice to stick up for her community and for Khalil. She also contemplates becoming an activist. Are you hoping that The Hate U Give will inspire young adults to also contemplate activism? A follow up question, why is activism of all different varieties (from posting on Tumblr to speaking at protests) important to you?
I think my ultimate hope is that it will cause readers to have more empathy than sympathy. If you understand and share the same feelings as another human being, in some ways you have no choice but to speak out. But I also know that activism comes in different forms. Twitter activism is real and it works; so does protesting. Writing is even a form of activism, because if we don’t know what another person is going through, how will we know that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed? I hope that my book helps readers find their own voice, whatever form that may be, and that it chips away at some of the fear that comes with using your voice.
The Hate U Give is a deeply emotional novel that deals with police violence and racism in no uncertain terms. Additionally, it’s debuting in a particularly fraught time in our nation (and our world’s) history, what with the ongoing protests at Standing Rock and the recent election. What do you hope your novel contributes to the lives of young readers growing up amidst such conflict and struggle?
For the readers who identify with Starr, I hope it reminds them that they aren’t alone in their fear, frustration, and sadness. Yes, racism, prejudice, and injustice are alive and well, but hope, love, and joy are too, and there are people who are fighting for what’s right. For the readers who can’t necessarily identify with Starr, it’s kind of like I said before – I hope it invokes more empathy than sympathy. Once you get it and understand it, you’ll be more willing to fight for it too.