Even if you don’t follow the news, stories of white police officers shooting African-Americans will most likely have made it to your Facebook newsfeed a number of times. Watching those harrowing videos and hearing about how officers are often let off with almost no repercussions, I was made aware of how I was unable to fully empathize with the struggles of the black community in the US, just like others might not understand how demeaning racial profiling at airports is. Thus even though my heart went out to those affected by the systemic biases of America, it was never truly put into perspective for me until I read The Hate U Give.
At its heart, the book is about the identity markers that unfairly disadvantage people based on characteristics they do not have any control over, the focus being on race. In her debut novel Angie Thomas explores the experiences and encounters of young black teens with law enforcement agencies and the way they deal with racially inspired fear, insecurity and suspicion.
When Starr was young, she was instructed by her father on how black people behave when stopped by the police. Four years later when she and her best friend Khalil are stopped by the police on their way back from a high school party in their ghetto, she remembers the significance of that lecture. No sudden movements, hands visible in the air, complete submission, an utterly depressing set of instructions because it presupposes that black people are always guilty until proven innocent. The helplessness Thomas portrayed reminded me of the times when Pakistanis and other brown-skinned folk get “randomly” searched and interrogated while crossing international borders, or the look of suspicion we might receive if our beards get slightly longer and too “Muslim-looking”.
What happens next is the crux of the book where Thomas depicts the shooting in a manner that highlights not only the horror of being on the opposite end of a bullet, but also delves into what an individual must go through when innocent life is taken away from them simply because the color of their skin is associated with criminality and is erroneously deemed dangerous. The story follows Starr coping with the loss of Khalil as she is exposed as the only eye witness of the incident. Her father had told her how evil the police can be and she is scared of coming out however she is repulsed by the media depicting Khalil as a stereotypical black drug dealer and gang member and later decides that silence will only grant the oppressors a free reign to continue oppressing her community.
Starr exists in two strikingly different worlds: her ghetto community and the upper class white majority school where she studies. As she navigates the two we experience how each community perceives the other; the subtle prejudices and misunderstandings as well as the desire to understand and find commonalities. The Hate U Give explores identities, the differences that at times dominate our relations with others, and what it means to belong to a community. In a world marked by politics of hatred and hysteria, with far right movements in Europe demanding to expel all immigrants, and the racial profiling of brown people all across the globe, The Hate U Give attempts to make us empathize with stories of suffering that are not necessarily confined within our territories. It is not just the story of Khalil and Starr, but of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Micheal Brown, Trayvon Martin and thousands of other young black teens who are the victims of police brutality. Starr and her community’s interaction with the police humanizes America’s race issues and her journey from the point of Khalil’s death to when she raises her voice against the atrocity resonates closely with what we see of the Black Lives Matter movement and underscore this book’s importance and necessity in today’s day and age by helping us empathize with each other in more concrete ways.
Bored of fantasy series and craving some excellent realistic fiction this summer? Then Osama has the perfect recommendations for you with The Last Word’s top five YA picks for June!
Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven
Age Range 14-17
Holding Up the Universe is about seeing and being seen and taps into the universal need to understood, loved and wanted. Libby Strout experiences fat shaming and struggles to find her place in high school where people are unable to look past her weight. Jack Masselin is a typical high school jock; popular and too cool for school and has a newly acquired secret that keeps him from getting too close to anyone. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game – which lands them in group counseling and community service, they discover that sometimes when you meet someone, the whole universe just comes into focus.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard
Age Range 12-15
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a moving story of a girl, a boy, and voices unheard. Steffi is selectively mute, but she has so much to say. Rhys is deaf, but he understands her perfectly. Their experiences transcend language. It presents Steffi’s journey through her first year of sixth form as she navigates her disability, adolescence and family dynamics, and her budding relationship with Rhys to find her voice and place. With a protagonist who has selective mutism and a love interest that is deaf, the story narrates the difficulty in coping from anxiety and losses people with impairment face and the little victories they achieve in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in one’s head.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Age Range 14-17
The New York Times bestselling novel The Hate U Give is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and involves the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. 16 year old Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil and has to testify in front of the grand jury. What follows is the chaos that closely resonates with the hysteria, insecurity and violence people of color feel in their engagement with the law. As Starr negotiates the dichotomy between her predominately white upper middle class school and the stereotyping of her neighborhood as a ‘ghetto’h, er experiences with gang fighting and racial discrimination taps fully into the shock, pain and outrage black teens experience in the US today and highlights their role in combating and exposing the deeply entrenched prejudice.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together – Brian Conaghan
Age range 12-16
14 year old Charlie finds himself situated in a conflict between Old Country and his home the Little Town. Citizens of the Little Town aren’t expected to befriend sworn enemies from Old Country, but when Pavel, a refugee from Old Country relocates to Charlie’s neighborhood, a relationship of mutual respect and dignity develops, challenging notions of identities and differences. ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’ offers a remarkable insight inside the lives of individuals impacted by war. Conflict silences individual stories and voices. Names become numbers. And in that context, Brian Conaghan narrates a dark, powerful tale of survival, morality and loyalty involving two teenagers who are able to look past labels and identity markers imposed by an ‘accident of birth’ that places them on opposite sides of an arbitrarily decided international border.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful – Eric Lindstrom
Age Range 14 -18
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a story about internal fears and insecurities that confine individuals to their shells. Mel Hannigan struggles to keep several things under wraps: Her bipolar disorder, death of her brother and distance with her best friends. But when she comes across someone new, she learns to find comfort in her own skin and challenge fears that inhibit her from exposing her true self. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautiful, captivating story about living with mental illness, and loving – even with a broken heart.
A Court Of Thorn and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)- Sarah J. Maas:
“I was not a pet, not a doll, not an animal.
I was a survivor, and I was strong.
I would not be weak, or helpless again
I would not, could not be broken. Tamed.”
This series breathes new life into the YA genre thanks to the introduction of Feyre. While some YA heroines seem doomed to a fate of ‘being fixed’ (read: controlled) by unnaturally good looking males, only feeling liberated when they levitate some knives or do some magic, Feyre subverts these notions. She is not a character that is strong from the beginning; instead she goes through an amazing arc and emerges a strong, empowered woman. The story winds up fast, in typical Maas fashion, and flies through twists and turns. The characters and their dynamic are fantastic and as a reader you will find yourself roaring with laughter at their antics.
An Ember in The Ashes (An Ember in The Ashes#1)-Sabaa Tahir
“The field of battle is my temple.
The swordpoint is my priest.
The dance of death is my prayer.
The killing blow is my release.”
Freedom will come at a heavy cost. Laia is a slave and spy and Elias is a soldier and neither is operating on their own free will. When the brutal world causes the two to meet, their stories unwind and join together, tighter and tighter. Love and loss shatter them and make them question the very different beliefs that they have grown up with. No one can be trusted- no one should be trusted. Key players in this story do not reveal themselves until the shocking end.
A love story that doesn’t overpower the plot or make you gag, earnest and sincere characters, hard choices and dumb decisions- this book is guaranteed to resonate with you. When I first read it, I was on vacation, and to the chagrin of my mother I could not put it down. Irresistible is the word for this brilliant story.
Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)-Leigh Bardugo
“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
A testament to the brilliance of this book is that I spent a good 15 minutes choosing between quotes- there are just so many brilliant ones. This book is a YA Ocean’s Eleven, only more brilliant, more magical and with more females. It features a richly imagined story and a DELICIOUS plot (yes, edible adjective level good) – but the true triumph of this story is its characters. It contains a diverse, hilarious and unconventional team comprised of “a convict with a thirst for revenge, a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager, a runaway with a privileged past, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums, and a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.” At times, it had me gasping, laughing and my heart racing. It was phenomenal.