- The book follows the life of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl who witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend Khalil by a white police officer, and how she deals with the trauma, the injustice, and the aftermath of the incident.
- The book explores the themes of racism, police violence, social justice, and activism, as well as the challenges and conflicts that Starr faces in her family, her community, and her school.
- The book is a powerful and compelling novel that challenges the readers to question their own biases and assumptions, and to empathize with the struggles and perspectives of people who are different from them. It also celebrates the strength and resilience of black people who resist oppression and fight for their rights.
The Hate U Give (2017) is a critically acclaimed coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of racism and police brutality. It follows 16-year-old Starr Carter as she navigates two contrasting worlds: the poor Black neighborhood where she lives and the white prep school where she studies. Starr’s attempt to strike a balance between these two worlds is shattered when she witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil, by a police officer.
Introduction: A powerful study of identity, race, and belonging.
Table of Contents
Some stories are told too rarely; others, far too often. In her debut novel, The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas interweaves both unheard and over-familiar tales.
When the police kill unarmed young Black men, much is said about their failings. The news cycles around two questions: what they did that they shouldn’t have done and what they didn’t do that they should have.
That is the all-too-familiar story which is told when Khalil is shot by a police officer during a routine traffic stop. But Thomas also tells a less-often heard story. It’s the story of the community which mourns Khalil not because he was faultless, but because he lived. Because he had family and friends, hopes, ambitions, fears, and ideas.
In bringing these strands together, Thomas doesn’t only craft a compelling and complex tale – she also holds a mirror up to the ethical and political failings of the society that fails to recognize and value the lives of men like Khalil.
Starr was 12 when her parents sat her down to talk about the birds and bees. Momma was a nurse and a straight-talker, so she skipped the euphemisms. Starr learned what went where and what didn’t need to go any damn where until she was grown.
That wasn’t the talk. That one was about what to do when you’re Black and the cops stop you. Momma said Starr wasn’t ready. Daddy insisted. Starr wasn’t too young to get arrested or shot, he said, so it was time she heard it.
Keep your hands visible at all times. No sudden moves. Get a look at the cop’s face. If you can remember his badge number, even better. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Daddy had a bigger mouth than anybody Starr knew. If he said you had to be quiet, you really had to be quiet.
Garden Heights was the kind of neighborhood where cops stopped people a lot. They treated it like enemy territory. Like the reporters who occasionally came to report on its troubles, they didn’t seem to see anything but problems. It was the ghetto: nothing but hopeless drug-addicts, gangbangers flashing signs, and bodies on sidewalks covered in white sheets.
What the cops and reporters didn’t see was the other side. Mr. Lewis, the pot-bellied barber who cut the best fades in the city. Mrs. Rooks’s famous red velvet cakes. Sunday barbecues. The church. Momma’s clinic. Daddy’s grocery store.
Daddy bought that store when Starr was nine. Mr. Wyatt, the old owner, was the only person who’d hire Daddy after he got out of prison. When he retired, Daddy took over. Everyone knew Daddy. If they knew Starr, it was as his daughter. She was the girl who packed their groceries at weekends and went to a bougie school across town called Williamson.
Starr ended up at Williamson the same way Will ended up at his bougie school in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Starr’s all-time favorite TV show. When Starr was ten, a couple of guys who were up to no good made trouble in the neighborhood. Strays from their shootout killed Starr’s friend, Natasha. Like Momma said, bullets don’t know where they’re going. Like Will’s parents, Starr’s got scared. They didn’t have rich relations in LA, so they did the next best thing: they sent their kids to a prep school across town – the kind of place that catered to white folks who lived in suburbs where kids played in the street and people left their doors unlocked.
Momma and Daddy still sometimes fought about Garden Heights. Momma wanted to move somewhere safer. Daddy wanted to raise consciousness in the ghetto like his Black Panther heroes. He didn’t want to live in a white suburb – he wanted to build a Black neighborhood where kids played in the street and people left their doors unlocked.
Fast-forward six years. Starr is at a Garden Heights party with her friend, Kenya. It’s her first party and she’s like a fish out of water. It’s because she spends so much time with those bougie white kids, Kenya teases. When Kenya leaves her alone, Starr tries to play it cool and tries to hide how awkward she’s feeling by acting like she’s busy on her phone.
In Garden Heights, she’s invisible. It’s hard to know folks when you’re a latchkey kid who goes to school across town and they only see packing groceries at the store. Williamson’s different. Being Black at an almost all-white school makes her cool by default. Funny how it works with white kids, she thinks: being Black is dope until it’s hard. But fitting in at school isn’t easy either. Williamson Starr flips a switch in her brain. She doesn’t use slang. If a rapper would say it, she doesn’t, even if her white friends do. She doesn’t give anyone side-eyes. She holds her tongue. Basically, she makes sure no one ever has a reason to call her “ghetto.”
She’s still pretending to read messages on her phone when Khalil taps her on the shoulder.
There was a time when she felt at home in Garden Heights and Khalil was part of that. They came up together. Daddy was still in prison and Momma worked overtime, so Khalil’s grandmother looked after them. With Natasha, they were an inseparable trio. After Natasha’s death, things changed. His grandmother was too old to care for him, so he went back to his drug-addicted mother. He had to fend for himself and his brothers. He worked at Daddy’s store for a bit, but it wasn’t enough to feed a family. Khalil quit – and disappeared from Starr’s life.
Khalil has the same dimples and hazel eyes, but he’s different. It’s not just the expensive sneakers and jewelry – it’s how he’s at ease in this room full of wannabe and real gangsters. Half-guessing the answer, Starr asks him what he’s doing now, but he dodges the question.
Suddenly, a gun goes off. There’s screaming and stampeding. Khalil grabs Starr and leads her to his car out front. They screech off, leaving the chaos behind. “Can’t have a party without somebody getting shot,” Khalil says, sounding like Starr’s parents.
Conversation flows more easily in the car. When he starts dissecting the lyrics of the Tupac song playing on the radio, Starr catches a glimpse of her old friend – Khalil the poet-philosopher. She asks him if he’s dealing. Khalil dodges again. All he says is that he got tired of choosing between food and paying bills every month. They change the subject and reminisce about earlier times. Childhood. Natasha.
Then they hear it: the whoop-whoop of the police car behind them. Daddy’s words echo in Starr’s mind. She hopes someone also had that talk with Khalil.
Khalil stops; the cop walks toward them. Starr asks Khalil if they’re looking for him. He says his only crime is driving while Black. The cop raps on the window, his other hand hovering over his still-holstered Glock 22. Khalil hands over his papers and license like he’s told to, but he talks back. If there’s a problem with my tail light, he tells the cop, write me a ticket. Starr pleads with him to be quiet. The cop’s angry now. He orders Khalil out of the car. Starr makes out his badge number – one-fifteen – and gets a look at his face. He’s white, around 35, with a brown buzz cut and a scar over his lip. He frisks Khalil three times. Nothing. He yells at Khalil to stay put and walks back to his car. Khalil opens the driver’s door. He’s halfway through asking Starr if she’s okay when it happens.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Blood splatters across the windshield. Khalil slumps to the floor. Starr is at his side, cradling him, the cop’s gun now trained on her. That’s how they stay until more cars with flashing lights arrive. More cops; an ambulance. It’s too late: Khalil is dead.
A rich seam of empathy for adolescents trying to find their place in the world runs through Thomas’s novel. Their struggle is universal – part and parcel of growing up and finding out who you are. If that process is necessarily fraught and often painful, it’s especially grueling for Black adolescents. The Hate U Give shows us an America that refuses to allow its Black children to work out their identities in peace. Racism frustrates their development and thwarts their individuation. Nor does it tolerate contradiction. We already see how Starr’s attempt to straddle different worlds is threatened by a society that flattens the complexity of her character into a single point – her Blackness.
Starr is caught in this America’s crossfire – literally and figuratively. Its violence has robbed her of one childhood friend; in the novel’s second act, it robs her of another and forces her to confront her identity on its terms.
Thomas began working on her novel in 2012 after a police shooting in California. Like Khalil, the victim was Black and unarmed; the officer, white. Thomas was interested in the stories told in the wake of such incidents. Whose voices do they foreground? Which details do they include – or omit? Who gets the benefit of context – and who’s harmed by it?
These are stories told by the media and they have powerful framing effects. In the Hate U Give, the media, which is a character in its own right, has a powerful voice – and it consistently challenges Starr’s. After the shooting, reporters give Khalil a new name: Khalil Harris, Suspected Drug Dealer. His death is secondary; what reporters want to talk about are his connections to criminality. Family and friends aren’t silenced – they’re denied a hearing. Officer One-Fifteen’s father, meanwhile, is invited onto TV shows to talk about his son’s ordeal. He uses his platform to claim that Khalil threatened his son and made him fear for his life.
These stories compound Starr’s trauma. Kids at Williamson talk about the cops shooting a drug dealer. It doesn’t matter that it’s an allegation: the words “drug dealer” shout louder than the word “suspected.” What if her friends realize she was in the car with Khalil? These questions haunt Starr, who has already guessed the answer: they’ll think she’s a ghetto girl.
The media’s framing aligns with the police’s. When the police interview Starr about the shooting, they also want to talk about gangs and drug deals. What does that have to do with Khalil getting killed? They just want a full picture of the incident, they reply. Khalil didn’t do anything wrong, Starr says, and Officer One-Fifteen shot him in the back. How much of a bigger picture do you need?
The stories told after a death like Khalil’s raise profound political and ethical questions. One way of grappling with these questions is to think about what the American philosopher Judith Butler calls “grievability.” For a life to be publicly mourned, Butler writes, it has to be a life that was originally recognized and valued. But social norms and structures render some lives less grievable than others. The dehumanization of groups, the denial of their rights, and the normalization of violence against them make their lives precarious; they’re at greater risk of injury and death. For Butler, these lives become “ungrievable.” They’re not publicly mourned because what was lost wasn’t counted in the first place.
When Thomas was finishing work on her novel, a new political movement was contesting the lack of value and recognition bestowed on Black lives in America. It said that Black Lives Matter, period. Such lives matter even if they belong to people who are poor or who deal drugs. The Hate U Give is, in part, the story of Starr’s growing political and ethical consciousness. Her realization of the centrality of this question – the question of which lives matter and who counts as grievable – is a key moment in the novel.
Tupac called his group Thug Life. Lots of folks thought he was endorsing the violent, do-or-die gangsta outlaw’s lifestyle. Khalil knew better. He talked about it the night he was killed. Starr teased him. Typical Khalil, listening to some old-timer, not Kanye. But he was serious. Thug Life was an acronym, he said; it stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everbody.”
The next time Starr heard Tupac was weeks later. She was sitting in Daddy’s car. Acrid smoke hung over Garden Heights – evidence of the protests after Khalil’s funeral a few days earlier and the riots that followed. Officer One-Fifteen hadn’t been charged and people were pissed – so pissed that they burned down half the neighborhood.
Daddy knows the words and joins in. Starr laughs at his awful rapping and says she never got why everyone makes such a fuss about Tupac. Now Daddy’s serious like Khalil. Tupac wasn’t a fool, he says. He didn’t go on about money and women like everyone else. Well, okay, he did a bit of that too, but he talked about real stuff. Like “Thug Life.”
Starr surprises her father when she says she knows that Thug Life is an acronym – he hadn’t expected that from his Kanye-loving daughter. So what does it mean, he asks her.
Starr quotes Khalil – that it’s about what society feeds the young and how it comes back to bite them. She thinks it’s about more than that though. It’s about us, she says. About Black people. Poor people. Minorities. Everyone at the bottom. Now Daddy wants to know what she thinks the hate is that society’s giving “little infants.”
Racism? It’s a statement but the last syllable rises higher than the first two to form a question. Sure, Daddy says, but it’s more than that. Think about Khalil. It hurts to say it but Starr says it: he was a drug dealer. Why, though? Daddy asks. Why do so many people deal drugs? Starr remembers what Khalil said: he got tired of choosing between bills and food every month. People need money, Starr answers, and there aren’t many ways of getting it.
Right, it’s about lack of opportunities, Daddy says. You need an education to get a decent job, but it’s easier to find drugs than it is to find a good school. Addicts think they need drugs to survive and boys like Khalil think they have to sell drugs to survive. Addicts can’t get a job unless they’re clean but they can’t pay for rehab unless they’ve got a job. When the police arrest dealers, they end up with a rap sheet that stops them getting work, so they start dealing again. It’s a system that’s designed against us. That’s the hate they’re giving. That’s Thug Life.
Daddy asks one more question: how Thug Life applies to the protests and riots. Starr thinks on that one for a minute. Then it clicks. Everybody’s pissed because One-Fifteen hasn’t been charged, she says, but it’s not the first time the police shot someone and got away with it. It’s been happening forever and people will keep rioting until it stops. The system’s still giving hate and everybody’s still getting fucked.
Watch your mouth, he says, but yeah, that’s about it.
There are lots of interweaving themes in Thomas’s novel, but all of them converge when Starr starts thinking about that line and begins to understand what Khalil was trying to tell her.
Anger is one of those themes. In one scene, we see the police humiliate Daddy during a stop and search outside the store. It’s pure sadism: the cops do it because they can. Afterwards, he locks himself in his office with a couple of older men who witnessed the incident – locals who know what it feels like to lie face-down on the dirty sidewalk with a knee on your back. Before he closes the door, Starr glimpses her father gripping the table so tight his knuckles go white, the veins in his head bulging so hard they look ready to burst. Mr. Lewis, the barber, pats him on the back and tells him to let it out.
Daddy does, but the rage stays in that room. It’s a symbolic act. Starr’s father shows her how dangerous rage can be when it’s neither contained nor channeled.
We see this aimless rage in the riots. People say misery loves company, but, in Thomas’s telling, anger’s no different. Besides a few hastily abandoned police cars, the rioters find few worthy targets. So the rage goes where it can – into looting and burning and destroying.
Remembering the past and fighting for the future
How do you break the cycle of hate?
By the end of the novel, Starr has an answer: you bear witness and testify.
One of the worst things anyone ever says to Starr is voiced by Kenya, one of the few friends she has in Garden Heights and one of the only people who know that Starr is the anonymous eye-witness the news keeps talking about. Kenya calls Starr out for not publicly defending Khalil – something he wouldn’t have hesitated doing if their roles had been reversed.
It’s a verbal slap and it stings because it’s true.
In the last section of the novel, Starr finds her voice. She speaks for three hours in front of a grand jury. Before the verdict is announced, she agrees to an interview with a TV station. Why, she asks, do people talk as though it was okay that Khalil was killed because he dealt drugs? Why is everyone constantly worrying about what he may have done or said or not done? She hadn’t realized that a dead person could be charged with their own murder.
But it’s not enough. The jury decides not to indict Officer Brian Cruise Jr. also known as Officer One-Fifteen. Garden Heights erupts again after the announcement. This time, Starr joins the protestors. In the novel’s penultimate scene, we see her addressing a crowd through a bullhorn. Everybody wants to talk about how Khalil died, she says, but this isn’t about how Khalil died – it’s about the fact that he lived. His life mattered. Khalil lived!
While the last scenes look desolate – Garden Heights in ruins under a cloud of acrid smoke, its inhabitants smoldering with rage – the novel ends on a note of hope.
We see Starr in her bedroom looking at a poster of Tupac, the words “Thug Life” tattooed across his stomach, and hear her thoughts. The hate that was so freely given had been repaid in kind and it’s fucked everybody. Now they have to somehow unfuck everybody.
Judith Butler argued that grieving can be a powerful political act. When communities publicly mourn the loss of ungrievable lives, they challenge the system that renders them disposable. That disruption can force a reevaluation of who matters. That’s where we leave Starr – stubbornly insisting on grieving a life society failed to recognize and value.
It’s no fairy tale, Starr says, but she hasn’t given up on a better ending. One day, things will change. She doesn’t know how, or when, but they will. Why? Because there’ll always be someone ready to fight. People already are fighting – even in the Garden, where it often feels like there’s not a lot worth fighting for. People are realizing and marching and demanding and shouting. They’re not forgetting. That’s the most important part.
Starr Carter, a 16-year-old, straddles two worlds: her affluent school and impoverished neighborhood. When she witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed childhood friend, Khalil, she’s thrown into turmoil. As the sole witness, she’s pressured by her community to seek justice and by the police to stay silent. Amidst escalating protests, Starr confronts systemic racism and finds her voice, striving to honor Khalil’s memory and champion the Black Lives Matter cause.
About the Author
The Hate U Give is a young adult novel that follows the life of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl who lives in a poor and predominantly black neighborhood called Garden Heights, but attends a wealthy and mostly white private school called Williamson Prep. Starr has to balance her two identities and cope with the trauma of witnessing the fatal shooting of her childhood friend Khalil by a white police officer. Khalil was unarmed and did nothing wrong, but the officer, who is identified only by his badge number 115, claims that he mistook Khalil’s hairbrush for a gun. The incident sparks a wave of protests and riots in Garden Heights, as well as a media frenzy that portrays Khalil as a drug dealer and a gang member, while 115 is put on paid administrative leave. Starr is the only witness to the shooting, but she is afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from the police, the local drug lord King, and her own schoolmates. She also struggles with her relationships with her family, her white boyfriend Chris, her black activist lawyer April Ofrah, and her friends Maya and Hailey, who are Asian and white respectively.
With the help of Ofrah, Starr decides to testify before a grand jury that will determine whether to indict 115 for Khalil’s murder. She also agrees to do a televised interview with a famous journalist to tell her side of the story. However, her identity as the witness is leaked to the public, and she faces harassment and threats from both the police and King’s gang. King is angry because he believes that Khalil was working for him as a drug dealer, and that Starr’s testimony will expose his criminal activities. In reality, Khalil was only selling drugs to pay off his mother’s debt to King, and he wanted to quit after his grandmother died of cancer. Starr learns this from DeVante, another young man who works for King and who seeks refuge at Starr’s house after being beaten by King’s men.
Starr also learns that her father Maverick, who owns a grocery store in Garden Heights and is a former gang member himself, was once imprisoned for a crime he did not commit in order to protect King, who is his half-brother. Maverick regrets his involvement with the gang and tries to keep his family safe from King’s influence. He also instills in Starr a sense of pride and respect for her black culture and history, as well as a love for hip-hop music and rap legend Tupac Shakur, whose acronym THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody) inspires the title of the book.
The grand jury fails to indict 115, which outrages the community and sparks another round of protests and violence in Garden Heights. Starr joins the protesters and leads them in chanting Khalil’s name. She also confronts King and sets his house on fire with a Molotov cocktail after he attacks her family’s store. The police arrive and arrest King, while Maverick negotiates with them to let Starr and the other protesters go peacefully. Starr realizes that she has found her voice and her purpose, and vows to continue fighting for justice and equality for Khalil and other victims of police brutality.
The Hate U Give is a powerful and compelling novel that tackles important and timely issues such as racism, police violence, social justice, and activism. The author Angie Thomas draws from her own experiences as a black woman growing up in Mississippi, as well as from the real-life cases of black people who were killed by police officers in recent years, such as Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and others. She also incorporates references to pop culture, especially hip-hop music and rap lyrics, to create a realistic and relatable voice for Starr and her peers.
The novel does not shy away from showing the harsh realities of living in a poor and marginalized community that is plagued by drugs, gangs, violence, and corruption. It also exposes the systemic racism and oppression that black people face in America, both from the institutions that are supposed to protect them (such as the police and the justice system) and from the society that stereotypes them (such as the media and the school). The novel challenges the readers to question their own biases and assumptions about race and class, and to empathize with the struggles and perspectives of people who are different from them.
The novel also celebrates the strength and resilience of black people who resist oppression and fight for their rights. It shows how activism can take many forms, such as speaking out against injustice, organizing protests, educating others, creating art, or simply being yourself. It also highlights the importance of family, community, friendship, love, faith, and hope in overcoming adversity. The novel features diverse and complex characters who are flawed but human, who make mistakes but learn from them, who have conflicts but resolve them. The novel also balances the serious and tragic moments with humor and joy, showing that life is not all black and white, but full of shades of gray.
The Hate U Give is a novel that deserves to be read by everyone, especially by young people who are the future of this world. It is a novel that will make you think, feel, and act. It is a novel that will inspire you to be brave, to be compassionate, and to be the change you want to see. It is a novel that will give you hope that hate can be overcome by love.