I want people to know my city by its books.
I want to know the people in my city.
This book review series will cover the books I’ve read and recommend. These books will be poetry, fiction, non-fiction, weird, experimental, and purposeful. The reviews will only recount a fraction of the book’s whole greatness. The books will be intended for a San José that I know – one that wants people to read the word and the world, and to own that process as one of creativity.
I write these reviews, as an author, writer, and a lover of books. I have wanted to write books ever since I was in elementary school. I wanted to read books with characters I could relate to ever since I started to seriously ask myself, “Who am I? How am I different?” I wanted to keep firing questions at the world when I read more books, and especially when a high school teacher doubted my writing abilities. I wanted to keep going with critical writing, reading, and thinking even when I doubted myself in college. All of this constant conversation with and against the world – this literacy in training – is why I write.
I want to read people the way I read books.
I want people to read more books.
"Khalil, I'll never forget. / I'll never give up. I'll never be quiet. / I promise."
- Starr Carter
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a young adult (YA) novel that centers around an observant narrator named Starr Carter. Starr loves her family, collecting Jordans, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She lets you know this from the jump, and her curiosity and answers about her world – which is ultimately our world, too, if you stretch your reality into your imagination – are our truths, too.
Starr is a 16-year-old who identifies as a girl from Garden Heights (“the ‘hood,” as she calls it), her father is “Big Mav” who served time in jail for drug dealing, and is an ex-gang member. Starr is one of the only black students at her mostly white private school, which she attends with her half-brother, Seven, and her coming of age experiences are further complicated by her relationship with her white boyfriend, Chris. All this, while navigating the windy road of friendships with the triad she completes with her friends Mya, who is Chinese American, and Hailey, who is white. The three girls seemingly share class privilege, but when intersected with race, their experiences are varied, and for Starr and Mya in particular, differently oppressed.
These parts of Starr’s life unravel through one salient moment – the single moment where in her presence a white police officer took the life of her childhood friend, Khalil, leaving her as the only witness to the crime.
But what was the crime? What is the crime, in so many instances where black lives are shortened and treated as though they don’t matter at the hands of police officers?
The Hate U Give answers these questions, and continues to ask more. Starr seeks to understand the differences in her worlds – neighborhoods, schools, communities and families segregated by race, law, and power. She proves that the life, legacy, and cautionary tales for the world in rapper Tupac’s thesis and tattoo on his stomach “T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E.” doesn’t endorse gang life, but stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone.” Starr sharply analyzes this throughout the novel, saying it means, “What society gives us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out.” The hate is racial and youth profiling, police brutality, police murder, and a legal system that repeatedly perpetuates injustice against black folks, as depicted in fiction and real life. Starr asserts that the “u” is a collective “you” that calls everyone to be responsible for the hate we put out in the world. And if you don’t see yourself connected, then it means that you will have to work harder to draw the lines.
The Hate U Give is a book the world needs today for an audience seeking to understand just how complicated the world is through a young, “woke” person’s point of view. But as Starr highlights, being “woke” or aware, and considerate of the consequences is not the same as action, or being down to do the work of unraveling and undoing the unfairness laced into our lives.
What would a story look like if it never gave up on the storytellers? It’d be The Hate U Give.
Janice Sapigao is a daughter of Filipina/o immigrants. She is the author of two books of poetry: microchips for millions (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2016) and Like a Solid to a Shadow (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2017.) She is a VONA/Voices and Kundiman Fellow, and the Associate Editor of TAYO Literary Magazine. She co-founded Sunday Jump. She earned her M.F.A. in Writing from CalArts, and she has a B.A. in Ethnic Studies with Honors from UC San Diego. View more of her work at janicewrites.com