Angie Thomas inhabits her main character Starr Carter’s voice in The Hate U Give. Starr is an African American teen living in a rough neighborhood. But her life is so much more than that. She’s got two younger brothers, plus a mom and dad who work their fingers to the bone to make life better for their kids. In fact, the kids attend a private school that’s a 40-minute drive from home.

But Starr and her family have long standing ties in the neighborhood, including childhood friends of both generations. When Starr meets up with her longtime friend Khalil at a party, it’s perfectly normal for her to get in his car and ride somewhere. But this night is different. They get stopped by two white policemen. And Khalil gets shot and killed.

The Hate U Give is Starr’s journey after experiencing this horrible event. Thomas gives an unvarnished account of the internal and external pressures Starr feels. This teen is caught in a finger trap puzzle. Any way she pulls, her life could tighten down and become more difficult. Not to mention the lives of those around her.

My conclusions

The best part of this story is how Starr learns to trust herself and her voice. Until Kahlil’s murder, she uses one voice at home and another with her private school friends. She learns that some people will accept you no matter what. And others will never truly accept you, no matter how hard you try. So she learns to be herself and speak her truths out loud.

Thomas balances the heartbreak of a death too soon with funny family interactions. She keeps the heaviest moments from overwhelming the gentle loving moments. But she never lets you forget that death is an everyday part of life. And that felt especially relevant to me right now.

The Hate U Give is social justice reading with a dose of love. Thomas makes it easy to care about Starr and the people around her. Technically, this is a Young Adult book. But it never feels trivial or silly. Thomas gives the story plenty of gravitas.

I’m also looking forward to her just-announced book about the back story of Starr’s dad. He, like so many characters here, was intriguing and likable.

I recommend this viewfinder into a teenager’s life-defining choices and growth into near adulthood.

Pair with Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, Ghost Boys, or Brown Girl Dreaming. Anything from my Social Justice category would be a good match.