A Teacher’s Take on a new ‘Young Adult’ novel

Written by Newspaper Advisor and English Teacher Mrs. Tori McGee.

I despise the book categories “Young Adult” and “Chick Lit.”  As an English teacher, I know I’m supposed to be a champion for great works of literature and frown upon books with no “literary value.” I’ve always felt, however, that it’s more important to connect to a book, to be able to laugh, think, or cry.  I worry that because it’s classified as a “Young Adult” novel, The Hate U Give by newcomer Angie Thomas will be swept under the rug as too mainstream or deemed only suitable to teen audiences rather than being appreciated for its current cultural relevancy.  

Amandla Stenberg, who will star in The Hate U Give movie

I was drawn to the book for two reasons.  The first reason was the general buzz surrounding the book.  English teachers and librarians throughout the country as well as many of the list-generating websites like Buzzfeed have been praising it as a must-read for 2017.  The rights for a movie starring Amandla Stenberg (the now-teenage actress who played Rue in Hunger Games) have already been bought by movie studio Fox 2000.  The second reason surrounds the unique title: The Hate U Give, lyrics from a popular Tupac Shakur song.  Now many of you reading this might be shocked to read that this Lilly Pulitzer-loving lady is a fan of the late, great rapper’s poetic lyrics (although admittedly, I despise his gratuitous use of profanity).  I was nervous to begin the book though; could a book written by a new author about such sensitive material with a title alluding to one of rap music’s most quoted talents really live up to the hype?

Well, I truly had no reason to be apprehensive. The Hate U Give follows the life of Starr Carter, a black teenager for whom code-switching is a part of her daily life.  Her educational world at an upper-class private school is the complete antithesis of her home and familial world, so her struggle to find and define herself is only further complicated by the unnecessary death of her childhood best friend at the hands of a white police officer.  As the sole witness to this crime, Starr has to determine how she will speak her truth of the event, knowing that her words will ultimately contribute to the legacy of her friend and could alienate or unite the people in her life.  Starr’s journey is certainly one that echoes the Black Lives Matter movement, and the description of her teenage odyssey either mirrors the readers’ feelings or further explains and justifies its importance.  

As a white adult female, I found myself gaining more understanding while experiencing several eye-opening moments.  My favorite passage posed the hypothetical question: “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” It caused me to think about my own life and the power that I have as a teacher as well as forcing me to think about if I am truly doing all that I can to bring appreciation, acceptance, and tolerance in my own classroom.  My only disappointment was that the conclusion seemed a bit rushed, but the last page and a half struck an emotional chord that motivated and inspired me.

The Hate U Give is a novel worthy of its early critical acclaim, and it is one that I will be adding to my classroom library.  The relevant plot line and diction will make it appealing to teenagers, but its themes and overall message make it a novel worth reading, regardless of age, experience, or background.

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