This is an important book and I wish I’d read it sooner. I hope it becomes the “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” of this generation. In my opinion, it should be required reading for all teens … for everyone. It’s also a blooming good story, and that matters (and makes it like those other two, too, right?).

I felt like I should maybe check my privileges before launching into a review, and then a friend of mine said I shouldn’t feel guilty for being born who I am and should just react to the book as I’ve reacted to it. Fair enough. In one almost insignificant way, I can feel a tiny, tiny bit of what the black characters in this book feel, and I know that’s unsettling enough to know that things need to change, and if a book like this can be shared by everyone and talked about, maybe that will help that change.

Angie Thomas – “The Hate U Give”

(22 May 2017)

This has been widely hailed as “the Black Lives Matter novel” and it’s right up to date and visceral and important.  It’s also a wonderful and big-hearted and ultimately positive novel about how people can change and about how doing the right thing can be scary but is vital. It’s full of strength and humour and wonderful characters, too. Top ten books of my year? I’d say so.

Starr, already living a conflicted life by virtue of having to live a double life, living in the poor, predominantly black neighbourhood her parents, for complicated but understandable reasons, don’t want to leave, but sent to a mainly white posh school in the suburbs, living in two registers, watching her speech, and having to be an example of each world to the other, which gets, frankly, tiring. She’s got a white boyfriend her dad doesn’t know about, and is living in a blended family with an older half-brother her dad had to be forgiven for fathering. Then she goes to a party for once and is the only witness to the death of her Khalil who, whether or not he’s been going off the rails a bit recently, is still her dear friend. He’s murdered by a white policeman, having not apparently been taught what you do when you get stopped by the police.

Yes, that’s right, some people in this world have to learn what to do in case they get stopped by the police, and that’s not just the don’t crack a joke when going through security at the airport thing. This is where I can feel some affinity and understanding – a tiny bit, I know, I know – which helped me into the story, because my husband and I, and indeed I on my own, get stopped and searched pretty much every time we pass through an airport, because we apparently look “Mediterranean”. I can only extrapolate the feeling of mild panic and worry (even last year, going on holiday with three friends, when I went through on my own, everything was brought out and checked) and dread. And it’s wrong (of course it’s wrong) but it’s right that this novel exists to explain how much more extreme this can be for so many people.

So, this is what novels – good ones – are for, isn’t it. You learn what someone else’s life is like, what you have to learn, what you live with every day. What are the nuances after a shooting and the social media campaign? How do you negotiate a friendship when you’ve worked hard to blend in and you’re suddenly “othered”? If you’re an ally of an othered group, how it is most appropriate to act? What do you do if you’re living between two lives – as both Starr and her uncle, a black police officer who lives in a gated community are doing? This novel looks at all these issues and more, but with grace as well as anger, humour as well as politics.

I loved the strong and positive role models of all generations, Starr’s mum and the activist lawyer, Ms Ofrah, the believable world, the relatable nature of the book even to someone a long way away from it physically and culturally. I loved Starr’s friend Maya, and Chris, her boyfriend, trying to do the right thing and understand (here I’ll say that some commentators have mentioned that the white characters in the book are one-dimensional and white culture is dismissed and mocked. I didn’t feel this. For a start, in a way, so what? Hasn’t that happened a LOT in other books the other way around? But Chris is a great, positive character, I loved his friendship with a black gang member, forged over video games, and when the young people have a laugh about white culture in the car, well, it’s funny and it’s good to see your own culture reflected back through a different lens, surely?).

I loved Starr’s raised consciousness, the fact that it’s HARD for her to be a hero, when she’s afraid to speak and knows she won’t be heard, but does it anyway. It’s not a fairy tale, it’s built on hard work and community, and that’s a brilliant lesson for anyone. I loved the clever unpicking of the media’s reaction to Khalil’s murder and how it addresses fake news and lies being spread without being didactic. Yes, there are some speeches about the background to people’s lives and the political ramifications, but even when they feel a bit didactic, this stuff needs to be said and it is in context.

There are lots of funny moments, for example around Starr’s younger brother and when her mum tries to friend her on Facebook. There’s a range of humour from friends teasing each other to savage irony, and the book is impeccably written, and is modern enough and with an exciting enough story to appeal to teenage – and all – readers while retaining the message it needs to share and not wavering from that.

As I said above, I think it should be required reading. This is a review from the heart, saying more than I said in my little journal with my fountain pen. If I’ve spoken wrong, I apologise, and I’d like to have why explained to me. I learnt so much from this book and it will stay with me for a long time.

Note: if you’re an audiobook reader, you may wish to read this review by Grab The Lapels, who experienced it in that version.