It's not everyday that a book named after a Tupac song debuts at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. But The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, released in February, is unlike any book that's come before it. It's a novel inspired by Black Lives Matter, a novel that speaks uniquely to the experiences of black girlhood, a novel written both to provide a mirror and a window (to quote Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop). It may be among the most important novels of 2017 so far.
"The Hate U Give is about showing that empathy is stronger than sympathy," author Angie Thomas tells Bustle. "It is about Black Lives Matter, but it's showing black lives that matter and showing why they matter."
The novel follows Starr Carter, a girl who straddles the line between two worlds: the poor urban neighborhood where she lives with her family; and the suburban prep school she attends with her mostly-white, affluent friends. But those worlds collide in shocking ways after Starr witnesses her the fatal shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil, at the hands of a white police officer. His death becomes a national news story, and Starr, as the sole witness, is the only person who can help get justice for his murder. But as soon as his death hits the news, people start talking. They say Khalil was a drug dealer. They think and say that he had it coming. But how can someone be on-trial for their own murder? As Starr grapples with her grief and outrage over the crime, she discovers just how much is at stake in the fight for justice for Khalil. Her life, her family, her neighborhood — all of it could be in danger.
The novel is a gut-punch that will leave you gasping for air. It's about grief, about loss, about racism, about violence, about poverty — but it's also a novel about love, about family, about activism, about hope. Despite the grim subject matter, The Hate U Give ends with a whispered promise for the future: perhaps, with teens like Starr in the world, what comes next will be better.
Nowhere is that sentiment more beautifully articulated than in the opening chapter, when Khalil explains to Starr the meaning of T-H-U-G L-I-F-E as they listen to Tupac in the car. He tells her:
There's no doubt that what society gives the young will impact their future — our future. That's why it's important that teens are reading things that make them more empathetic, more political, more open-minded, more thoughtful.
Angie Thomas understands that. "I write for teens because when I'm in a nursing home, they're going to be running our country," she says. "I write for them because they need to know that they matter — that their voices matter, that their lives matter. And hopefully if they know it now, in 20 years, 30 years, we won't have to say black lives matter. Everybody will know it."
The Hate U Give is written for black teens — and that's a good thing — but it's a book that every American can learn from. It's a book that every single person needs to read.
Check out Bustle's Most Wanted, a list of our editors' 25 favorite things for spring 2017.