Another tough review, mostly because this has been written about by so many at this point that I doubt I have anything much to add. This generation's "The Outsiders", The Hate U Give starts with the murder of an unarmed black teen by a jumpy white cop and tells the story of his friend, a teen girl living in a black city neighbourhood but attending prep school an hour away.
As a 30yo white Canadian in the urban west coast, it portrays a very different world from what I experienced in school or encounter in my day to day life. Great literature for all ages, but particularly for YA and kids, can teach us empathy by bringing us into the experience of those who are different from us, and this book does that effectively, making the choices, feelings, and responses of the characters clear and relatable whether or not you agree with them. I appreciated the level of insight this story gives since a lot of the reactions I see to the real world shootings and racism are media sound bites or Twitter hot takes that tend toward the outraged or the defensive, and generally lack context or depth. What I appreciated most was the level of complexity the author brings to her portrayals of the neighbourhood, the situations, relationships, personalities etc. Since we're firmly grounded in the MCs story, some ideas aren't developed as fully or in as balanced a way as they might be, but it's a story not an academic paper so that's as it should be.
There's quality writing here, with current events and ideas explored through an immersive story framework, but to step away from the intellectual for a moment, this story was basically a continuous gut punch. I'm not sure if there was a chapter I wasn't crying in. So much heartbreak, which is what helps make the reactions and the anger feel like the natural conclusion. So much tragedy. One of the things, oddly, that really got to me was they way they reference "black Jesus" all the time - not because I have a problem with Jesus being portrayed as black, but because it felt like a snapshot of the multi-generational effects of racism and how that's informed identities. Like, Jesus of all people, ethnically Middle-Eastern and known for validating all human life and brotherly love, should not be seen as belonging to white people by default. Which is a theme that comes up again and again: white people vs. black people. Or white people vs. minorities, as comes up with the MCs Chinese-American friend. So much separation, enmity and rivalry, fear and violence . . . and in the end, so much of that violence turns back on the community that's suffered. So this book was a really thorough exploration of many dimensions of the modern teen's life, of life as a black person in America, of navigating identities between the different spheres of your world (again: teen life), of racism and police brutality, of poverty and gangs and drugs and family. Because this was also one of the most beautiful portrayals of a loving, connected family I've come across in YA. The parents had fully developed personalities, motivations, pasts, with messy but thoughtful approaches. I particularly liked the way the parents talked their kids through stuff. I think if more parents dialogued their kids through critical thinking, problem solving, and understanding the world around them, we'd be in a much better place as a society now. Very cool to see that played out in a YA book.
Highly recommend for older teens, maybe 15 through adult. Caution/parental guidance for younger kids based mostly on language, obviously on violence, and just a smidge on sexual content. I could see this book being taught in high school English classes for sure.