THUG. Oi. There are no words.
“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood 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, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. 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 upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”
Oh my days this book is powerful. Written as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement and tackling some heavy subjects, this is obviously not a book to be taken lightly. And trust me, that’s impossible anyway. Once you’re in, you’re in.
The book literally starts with a bang and not a good one. Starr and Khalil are driving home from a party, when they are pulled over by a cop. I still haven’t figured out why he pulled them over, I guess it doesn’t matter, the point is that he did it, saw that they were black and that was enough. When Khalil leans over to ask if Starr is OK, the officer fires and kills Khalil then trains his gun on Starr until his back up arrives. Khalil was unarmed. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Except it’s not. It’s the aftermath of this story. The evolution of the character of Khalil, the progression of the court case against the officer in question. The personal relationships that take the strain when something like this happens. It is so much more than just this one event and yet it is only this one event. Everything that happens after is in some way connected to it. These are the things you don’t see in the news coverage of these cases. It is horrible but so well done.
The characters are so well drawn and actualised, they all stand out from the page and carry their own weight of the story. You all know I love a good character novel and THUG delivers on that front spectacularly. The narrator is Starr, who so wonderfully demonstrates what it means to be 16 and trying to find yourself while retaining your friends from different areas of your life, keeping your grades up, keeping your parents happy, navigating your love life. Except on top of this Starr has the added bonus of being the only witness is a case of police brutality and being brave enough to stand up and speak for what is right. The journey that Starr goes on is harrowing and gripping and truly well written. I was crying more than once, not from the events themselves (although they are terrible and made me ask, out loud, to the world in general “WHY?”) but from her voice. She is such a 3 dimensional and realistic character that I felt I was there with her, experiencing everything with her. One of the things that struck me most about Starr was that she is constantly watching what she says and does wherever she is, she feels like she can’t be herself because she thinks she will be seen as being ‘too black’ or ‘too white’ and that made me really sad. No one should have to suppress their personality for fear of being persecuted. I guess that’s a part of what is at the centre of this story: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a person by their colour.
As a white, English, adult reading this book, it really hits you hard to think that things like this still happen in the world, this is the 21st century, stuff like this shouldn’t happen. Maybe it’s just the bubble that I live in on the internet, but we are all just people. Black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, when it comes to it, we are all the same, so why should anyone be worth less because of the colour of their skin or the way they cut their hair or any other trivial detail. Life is too short for that. The Hate U Give is an incredible novel, with heart and humour and message that should be heard by all. Black Lives Matter.
I’ve given THUG 5 stars because it made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me think. And I’m still thinking about it weeks later, thinking about the fact and the fiction. It’s truly a brilliant book and I encourage everyone to pick it up.