Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls...welcome to what I am calling the Door Stop Novels YA Fest. Through complete accident and little planning of my own, every post for the month of June will cover a young adult novel. That's right. For the next five weeks, every Door Stop Novel will be a young adult fiction novel. It is no secret to anyone who reads this blog regularly that young adult is my favorite genre, and this year, I have certainly had my pick of YA books to choose from. There have been so many in fact - so many that I wanted so badly to read - that I am letting YA take over the entire month of June, which is also my favorite month. And starting things off will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
The Situation: Starr Carter is from the hood, and that is no exaggeration. It is not something she just says, and no one can call her a liar. She lives in Garden Heights with her mother Lisa; her father Maverick, or Big Mav; older half-brother Seven, and younger brother Sekani. To most people around the neighborhood, Starr is known mostly as "Big Mav's daughter who works at the store." While her father owns and runs the local grocery store, and refuses to move his family to a safer neighborhood, Starr and her brothers are still sent across town to attend a school in her Uncle Carlos' neighborhood. After Starr's best friend was killed in a drive-by shooting when they were ten, Big Mav and Lisa decided they needed to do what they could to keep their children safe.
The Problem: After a Spring Break party is broken up, Starr leaves with Khalil, another childhood friend. Not long after they leave, the car is pulled over, and a routine traffic stop over a busted tail light turns into Starr's worst nightmare, and it is one she has already lived. Khalil ends up shot in the back, and the officer, whom Starr will continue to refer to as One-Fifteen (his badge number) for the remainder of the book, continues to point the gun at Starr as her friend bleeds out in her lap. The event will make national news, and Starr will have more difficulty than ever balancing her two identities: the one she has in Garden Heights, and then one she has with her friends at school, where being black automatically makes her cool by default. With her neighborhood being torn apart, not only because of what happened, but also because of rival gang violence, and the judgment she fears she will receive at school, Starr tries her best to remain anonymous, and not be revealed to be the only witness, other than One-Fifteen, to Khalil's death. But if there is any hope of Khalil receiving the justice he deserves, Starr will have to speak out, despite the danger it could bring to her friends and family.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set mostly in Garden Heights, a neighborhood in a city that is never named, because really, it could be any city of substantial size in the U.S. At the center of the novel is the incident that claims Khalil's life, and the aftermath that follows...but it is not everything. Once the event makes national news, everyone is naturally giving their two cents, but Starr was actually there. Khalil may not have been armed, and he may not have done anything wrong, certainly nothing to deserve what happened, but labels such as thug and gangbanger are thrown around anyway, even by one of Starr's best friends at school. As if she is not going through enough, her family must deal with King, the biggest gang leader in Garden Heights, who has major issues with Big Mav. And what Starr knows about Khalil could put her family and friends in danger if she tells the wrong people. While keeping her family safe and alive is certainly a priority, so is getting justice for a friend who was killed for all the wrong reasons. This novel deals with unmerited violence against black people at the hands of law enforcement; gang violence; the seemingly endless cycle of drug dealing and drug abuse in the hood; the exhausting nature of being able to be one way at home, but having to be someone almost completely different when around people who do not look like you; and even the ever-present question of whether leaving a neighborhood means turning your back on it, even if you have a good reason to do it.
My Verdict: Three words: I cannot even...I just cannot. There is a reason, several actual, for why this book made it to the top of the best-seller list for several weeks in a row. It is a book that approaches a subject that is painful for many people, black or otherwise, but sadly, it keeps coming up in today's society due to unarmed black people being shot by police. However, despite the subject matter, people do pick it up, and then they recommend it to their friends, who also pick it up. And then teachers buy it for their students, who then recommend it to their friends, and the cycle continues. And it is because it is not just a book about a difficult subject that is painfully relevant, but it is also incredibly, ridiculously, ludicrously, and almost unbelievably well written. This is a story. Thomas does not hold back and instead goes for broke, and it works in every way that it can. She even dares to address that one person in every one's life who is so blindly ignorant, but also so self-righteous that it induces a kind of rage that cannot even be identified, that they have the gall to insult some one's culture and/or how they feel about an issue, and then feel like they are owed an apology when they are called out on it. I could easily get on my soapbox right now and go on at length about why that kind of nonsense happens, but I will spare you...this is simply a wonderful book. And I try not to say this too much, but I am saying it here: everyone should read it.
Favorite Moment: Anytime Starr's mother, Lisa, breaks down some one's name when they need to quit. We all know that moment when we have gone too far by how our parents say our name. My mother would middle-name my brother and me. And when she did, we knew we were pulling at her last nerve.
Favorite Character: It would have to be a tie between one of Starr's best friends, Maya, and Nana, her grandmother on her mother's side. Maya is small but mighty, and sticks by Starr through all of the drama. All of it. And while Nana may be a little off, she does not play around, and she loves her grandchildren.
Favorite Quote: "Daddy claims the Hogwarts houses are really gangs. They have their own colors, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other, like gangs. Harry, Ron, and Hermione never snitch on one another, just like gangbangers. Death Eaters even have matching tattoos. And look at Voldemort. They're scared to say his name. Really, that "He Who Must Not Be Named" stuff is like giving him a street name. That's some gangbanging shit right there."
Recommended Reading: Goodness, this is tough. I guess first, for the nonfiction side, I recommend The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward. But for fiction, I will suggest The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. It is a completely different kind of book, but like Thomas, Diaz went for broke and it paid off.