Group Discussion: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.


K. Imani: The title comes from a quote by Tupac who said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*** Everybody.” I had never heard that quote before and found it very interesting. As the novel progressed and the meaning of Thug Life became more and more evident, I found it to be extremely profound. And a true statement of our times, especially since the election there has been a rise in hate crimes. Children of color are bearing witness to hate against them and I can only imagine what will happen when they come of age and discover the power of their voice like Starr does.

Crystal: I too hadn’t heard of this particular quote, but it resonated with me. It made me think of the many ways that Black children are seeing and experiencing hate in our country. Tupac had some wisdom there. It only seems logical that sowing hate will bring negatives for everybody.

Audrey: It was also my first time hearing that quote, but it is a powerful sentiment and a perfect distillation of the themes in THUG. I loved how it kept coming back into the story and how Starr’s relationship to it changed as she watched the fallout of Khalil’s murder in her family, her community, and the surrounding city. The hate played out differently across the characters, but there was no question that it made things worse for everyone all around.

K. Imani: One aspect of the novel I loved is that Starr had a relationship with her parents. We learn early that her parents are very frank with her, specifically having given her “The Talk” (not the sex talk, the one all Black kids get about dealing with the police) at a young age, and even shows when her 8 year old brother receives The Talk. It is because of this talk/relationship with her parents that Starr initially stays relatively calm when she and Khalil are pulled over. I like how Thomas revealed the different parts of The Talk by having her think of her father’s words as she encountered the hostile police officer. I know many Black folk who go through the same process when pulled over, especially these days when one never knows how their encounter will end up. I think we’re all Starr in that moment.

Jessica: Speaking of The Talk – I didn’t notice until later in the book that even though Starr did everything “right” when she and Khalil were pulled over, just like her parents told her, it wasn’t enough. The policeman pointed his gun at her as well. She points that out to her parents, and they understood instantly. So many people question who Khalil was, whether he had it coming, and so on, but Starr’s parents are steadfast in their understanding of the reality of the situation – that nothing justified his killing.

Crystal: I really appreciated the adults in the story and the relationships Starr had with them. Starr’s parents showed that they loved their children and were going to hold them to high standards because of that love. Their rules and consequences are reasoned decisions based on love and a desire to do what’s best for their kids. The humor and respect they show sure add another great element too. They had a beautiful relationship they were sharing and modeling for their kids. It was also good to see Starr’s uncle and his role in her life. It added another layer to the story to see how he had stepped in for her family when she was young and to see events from a Black police officer’s perspective.

Audrey: I loved Starr’s parents. Thomas gave me a glimpse through them–and Starr’s reactions to them and their advice–about what other people’s experiences are in America. It was heartbreaking when her little brother got pulled aside for The Talk, but I appreciated seeing that their parents had to make that call not because any eight-year-old is an actual threat to anyone but because we live in a world where they, as good parents, must give their children as much information and advice as they can to help keep them safe. Starr going through The Talk in her head when she and Khalil got pulled over made me very aware of all the small things that could–and did–go wrong. And it made the second awful encounter with the police later on all the more terrifying because of the possibility it could happen again.

There were a lot of good adults in Starr’s world, and I appreciated how Thomas took the time to demonstrate how they could have different perspectives and disagreements about how things should play out. They could fight with one another and still be united in the desire to do what was best for their families and communities. It was wonderful to see that depth and breadth in the characters.

K. Imani: Yes, I so agree with you Audrey. A common YA trope is to have absent parents & adults, so I’m glad that Thomas filled the novel with with so many important and loving examples of parent/child, uncle/niece, sibling, in-law relationships. All of them really showed how inter-connected many families, and communities, truly are and that when one hurts, the entire family hurts.

K. Imani: Another theme that was so strong in T.H.U.G is the concept of code switching that Blacks who move in primarily White spaces have. As one who grew up usually one of the few Black children in school, I fully connected with Starr here. She states, “That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang – if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do.” This duality that many Black people live with is exhausting, but not really talked about. I felt like being with Starr as she struggles to maintain “Williamson Starr” while dealing with her grief, her PTSD, and the tension in the community from Khalil’s death was an original way to show the inner turmoil many Black people experience from having to code switch.

Audrey: As a biracial Latina who wasn’t taught Spanish and grew up speaking like the white side of my family, I don’t have personal experience in code-switching, but I was exhausted for Starr as she had to flip the switch back and forth repeatedly. It took so much effort for her to maintain “Williamson Starr” while at school or around her school friends. Her repeated reminders to herself about not wanting to come across as the Sassy/Angry Black Woman or as “ghetto” made me upset and angry on her behalf–and was a potent reminder about how damaging stereotypes are. Starr struggled with her PTSD and grief and conflicts with her community, but she had to bottle so much of it up in the Williamson Starr side of her life because she didn’t want to mess up the image of herself she had built there. How much better off would Starr have been if she felt free to fully express herself at Williamson?

K. Imani: A few years ago I taught an article about PTSD in children who experience violence and I think exploring Starr’s PTSD from seeing the murder of her friend, especially at the hand of a policeman, reminds me of it. The article explains that children who experience trauma, who see family and friends murdered, experience PTSD at almost the same rate as war veterans. I’m so glad that Thomas has Starr experience PTSD, triggered whenever she’s around police officers, because witnessing Khalil’s murder is so traumatic. The way Starr’s PTSD manifest felt very real and true to life.

Audrey: I’m glad that Thomas included Starr’s PTSD and demonstrated all the ways it was present in her life. Too often mental health issues are swept under the rug for minority communities, and it’s important to see characters who deal with them. Especially a black teenage girl, since stereotypes about black woman frequently center on very specific types of “strength” that don’t allow for mental illness or emotional vulnerability. The PTSD seemed to be handled well to me, but I would love to read a review of T.H.U.G. from a black reviewer who has PTSD to get their thoughts.

Jessica: Ditto what Audrey said regarding reviews.

K. Imani: Let’s talk about Starr’s and Chris’s relationship, specifically how it was presented and the inner conflict Starr felt about having the relationship. Having Starr be in an interracial relationship truly added another layer to the narrative of THUG, and one that is often not addressed much in stories where interracial relationships exists. The challenges the couples face are usually very surface, but Starr deals with some serious identity issues because of their relationship, and trust issues, especially after Khalil’s murder.

Audrey: I really appreciated how Thomas didn’t shy away from showing some of the conflicts of interracial relationships. (My family has some nasty stories about future in-laws flipping out when they found out who their children had fallen in love with.) The struggles Starr faced through the book as she reexamined her relationship with Chris demonstrated how difficult forging and maintaining that kind of relationship could be. It was also an excellent contrast to Starr’s friendship with Hailey, who refused to believe she could be wrong or that Starr’s POV and feelings and experiences were valid.

Crystal: Starr felt comfortable with Chris because she could be herself with him. She didn’t do as much code switching with him as with the others at her school. She still kept many things hidden from him though. Thomas really did a great job showing Starr’s decision making there and letting readers know that these decisions weren’t made lightly. Chris and Starr have a lot to work through beyond the typical dating issues that come up between teens. Some of their conversations around race show that even Chris is operating under some biases though he is open to learning.

K. Imani: I agree with you Crystal that Thomas did an excellent job of making Starr and Chris’s relationship complex and that the decisions they make apart and together are done with careful thought. It is clear that there is mutual respect and love for each other based on their personalities and mutual likes.

Audrey: One of the small things later in the book that made me really happy was how Maya and Starr formed a “minority alliance” and promised each other that they wouldn’t let Hailey get away with saying any more racist stuff to them again. That moment of self-reflection from Starr, about how she needed to have a voice and stand up for others, too, was wonderful, especially since both she and Maya followed up on their pledge to back each other up. It was great to watch them come together and be allies for each other.

K. Imani: That moment! I almost forgot about that, this novel has so much. I’m, again, thankful for the way Thomas chose to write Hailey because a lot of people think racists are the evil mustache-twirly villains of old, and not realize that they harbor their own racist beliefs until they are called on it. Hailey is a character that I think will make folks uncomfortable but also be able to use her antics to take a good look at themselves and make a change. I was proud of the girls banding together and standing up to her because they realized they were also part of the problem, but now by having each others back they can invite change.

Jessica: Just a sidenote… was super psyched to see that Maya was Taiwanese! And the little details about her that were linked to being Taiwanese – spending breaks in Taipei, her last name, etc.

Getting back to the topic, I’m struck by how many threads were running through the book – the different family and friend dynamics, neighborhood life, the protests, coping with trauma, and relationships. There is so much going on, but it all links together and just fits. Sometimes, I think books will try to tackle current events and topics, and will struggle to make everything work in a way that doesn’t sound like an after-school special, but THUG succeeds where an awful lot of other books flounder.

I know THUG hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list (woo!), is getting a movie, and is basically enjoying some well-deserved success. Given that it’s on the path to being the next “everyone and their mother is reading this book” kind of novel, I’m definitely curious to see how people directly involved in the organizing (and leading? I guess ‘leaders’ is kind of a false concept in grassroots movements) of the Black Lives Matter movement react to this book. Or maybe they’ve already read this book, and I just haven’t dug into the reception of THUG enough.

Also, I’m way excited for Book 2! Aaaah!

Crystal: I had to go verify this second book you mention. Yes! In a recent interview, A.C. Thomas implies that it’s more of a companion book set in the future a bit, but still, I too am super excited to read more.

K. Imani: What? There is a second book? Woo-hoo!!! Thanks Crystal for the link to the article. I’m sure everyone who has read “The Hate U Give” or has yet to read it (what are you waiting for) is excited to hear that news! Clearly we all loved “The Hate U Give” , now tell us what you thought of Thomas’s best selling debut novel.

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Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

taking flightTaking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela & Elaine Deprince

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary: The extraordinary memoir of Michaela DePrince, a young dancer who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone for the rarefied heights of American ballet.

Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.

At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is now the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has appeared in the ballet documentary First Position, as well as on Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, and Nightline.

In this engaging, moving, and unforgettable memoir, Michaela shares her dramatic journey from an orphan in West Africa to becoming one of ballet’s most exciting rising stars. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

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Tabula Rasa

Tabula RasaTabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
EgmontUSA

The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable.

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Book Review: Otherbound

otherTitle: Otherbound
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genres: Fantasy/SF
Pages: 387
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: Now! Just came out on Tuesday!

Summary: Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

Review: At first glance, the premise of this novel seems like it could be confusing and have the potential to go dastardly wrong. I’m thrilled to let you know that in fact, the opposite happens! You can’t put this book down. My plan was to read the book slowly over a series of nights and instead I ended up staying up way too late to finish it. Corinne Duyvis knocks it out of the park with this amazing debut of a novel.

Both Nolan and Amara are instantly likable characters that the reader is able to connect with, despite their extreme differences. Because of his connection to Amara, Nolan’s life is in constant flux and poor guy cannot get a break. In fact, he has lost a leg because of his connection to Amara and his family believes that he has seizures, when in reality he is in Amara’s world. Amara is a servant to a princess on the run, and she is actually mute, and communicates using sign language. Despite their disabilities, both Nolan and Amara are like action heroes, really. Once Nolan figures out how to “chat” with Amara, they work together to solve a mystery, so to speak, putting both their lives at risk. I find that characters who make the choice to be heroes are braver than the ones who are “destined for greatness”. Both Nolan and Amara fit into the description of the former and do not let their disabilities to hamper their goals in any way. For me, while the novel is a fantasy, the way Nolan’s and Amara’s disabilities were presented, as more background and just how they get about in the world, is realistic. I loved that this novel was not about them overcoming their disabilities, but more about the mystery of how Nolan and Amara, people from two different worlds, connect and overcome an oppressive government.

Another aspect of the novel I loved, and why Corinne’s book is so enjoyable, is how she writes the narration. The story is told from both Nolan’s and Amara’s point of view, which could be confusing especially when Nolan blinks and/or is with Amara. The way Corinne chose to break down those moments is what makes the novel interesting. The novel is particularly from Nolan’s point of view, and when he is drawn from Amara as some moments, you scream in frustration with him. When Nolan is fully with Amara, then the novel is in her point of view. The transitions between the two points of view is seamless and pulls the reader into the story. I can honestly say it was one of the reasons why I stayed up too late reading. Both voices are strong and like I said earlier, I was able to really connect with Nolan and Amara.

Lastly, the world that Corinne creates, Amara’s world, is just a diverse and real as our world. It was a foreign place, a unique world all it’s own, but there was hints of our world dropped in here and there. A reason exists for those small hints and the explanation given is just…you have to read the book to find out!

I greatly enjoyed this book and was sad when I finished. I don’t think there is a sequel planned, but I would love to spend more time in Amara’s world and even spend some time with Nolan

Recommendation: Get it now!

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A Death Struck Year

deathA Death Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country–that’s how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode–and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can’t ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?
Riveting and well-researched, “A Death-Struck Year” is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history. Readers will be captured by the suspenseful storytelling and the lingering questions of: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?

An afterword explains the Spanish flu phenomenon, placing it within the historical context of the early 20th century. Source notes are extensive and interesting. — Cover image & summary via IndieBound

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