I’ve once again seen The Hate You Give is being challenged in schools and I’m realizing that I’ve never reviewed the book on this blog! It came out during my Printz year and I couldn’t review it. That year, We Are Okay (Dutton) by Nina LaCouer won the medal and The Hate You Give (Balzer+Bray) by Angie Thomas, Long Way Down (Atheneum) by Jason Reynolds, and Strange the Dreamer (Little, Brown Books) by Laini Taylor were the honor books. You’ll have to try to imagine the rigorous discussion that each these books had based on their literary merit. There all such good books, as were a few that didn’t earn recognition. Yet, based upon the profanity in the book, the ‘f’ word in particular, there are parents and community members who do not want the book in libraries or classrooms. It doesn’t matter that profanity is on the rise in the US, or what the outcomes are for a well-placed ‘f’ bomb, parents just don’t want their children to hear it. They choose to ignore the literary merit of the book as well as it’s important social message and, challenge the story. Some have problems with the portrayal of law enforcement officers in the story, one of whom is Starr’s uncle. In the portrayal Thomas provides, she creates room for dialog about the relationship between the police and the Black community. I’m not sure why this is offensive.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on Dr. Rudine Sim’s Bishop’s work on mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors lately. (1990) Inviting readers into the story in this way is what Bishop refers to as sliding glass doors, when “readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.” (Bishop1990) In providing more than one officer in the text, more than one way of performing the job, Thomas invites readers to engage in critical thinking not only around one particular event-the shooting- in the book, but how people in a society interact, whether it be boyfriend/girlfriend, best friends, parents, or siblings. Thomas added race to these relationships, causing us to think even deeper about how we work for each other’s liberation.
Angie Thomas grew up in Mississippi, and earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University. She wrote as a young child, inspired by the library books she was reading, and she developed these skills into a career as a teen rapper. She began writing The Hate You Give in college. It became her debut novel, winning acclaim around the world.
When I first read the book, I wondered for whom Thomas wrote the book. For whom didn’t she? There’s a very specific Black community represented in that book and they’ll see themselves mirrored on the pages. They’ll relate, feel seen and along with the rest of us will question the character’s roles in this artificial community and what the balance of power is. I’m a Black woman who, like Star, attended predominately white private schools. I didn’t know many people in my Black neighborhood, either. I think we both grew up in working class Black neighborhoods, but Starr was in a different time and place. I read this book as a sliding glass door. I read about her infatuation with Harry Potter and sneakers; the foods she liked and, I opened that door, and fell into the book. I imagine there are young white readers who picked up on many things in the book that I completely missed. Details in the book are like little handheld mirrors for readers to look at and see themselves in the story. The connections we’re able to make are as much about geography and class as they are about race.
The Hate You Give continues to pop up on reading lists (reading lists—not challenge lists) not only because of its portrayal of a young girl finding her voice after a police shooting but because of its significance in Black literary traditions. Thomas has mentioned in several interviews how Roll of Thunder by Mildred Taylor has influenced her writing. She built much of Starr on Cassie’s confident, outspoken shoulders; even used a line in the book as inspiration for Starr’s dad’s name.
Here’s a synopsis of the story.
The land is all-important to the Logan family. But it takes awhile for Cassie and her three brothers to understand just how lucky they are to have it. They must learn the hard way that having a place they can call their own in rural Mississippi permits the Logans the luxuries of pride and courage that their poor black sharecropper neighbors can’t afford.
Having land gives the Logan children an emotional foundation as they begin to notice the difference between how white children and black children are treated in the Jim Crow South of the Great Depression. Like how textbooks are only issued to black children – labeled “nigra” in the book’s inside cover – after they’ve been thoroughly used by white children. And it takes injustices such as these, and a turbulent year of intense racial prejudice, of night riders and burnings, to show Cassie just how important owning their own land is.
In both stories, tight Black knit families value land, community and education. Still resisting racism, Starr, like Cassie, speaks out to protect others. In transforming situations to more contemporary expressions of oppression while exploring even more complex racial relationships, Thomas adds to the lineage of African American youth literature. The pages contain humor, hope, joy and love, all the things that fulfill our humanity. This sort of literary heritage is as important as history itself in communicating ways of being, of overcoming. Like all young adult literature, The Hate You Give provides hope.
From Thomas’s transformative work, we get tangential novels where young Black girls confront social injustice and find their voices in young adult literature.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Feiwel & Friends)
A Blade So Black byL.L. McKinney (Turtleback)
Off the Record by Camryn Garrett (Knopf)
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury YA)
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson
Windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors exist in the reading experience where readers and authors choose to meet. Some authors will drop nuggets to invite us in. How much work we’re willing to do to remove our own biases will determine what we’re willing to see.
Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6 (3). Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix-xi.