When Angie Thomas wrote The Hate U Give, she did not expect to become a mega-bestselling author, dominating the highly-competitive New York Times Young Adult Bestseller list at the number one spot for six weeks in a row, but this is now her reality.
In fact, Thomas never expected to get published, but The Hate U Give felt significant and necessary in the book world from the moment Thomas began sharing her ideas for the novel. She asked on Twitter if books dealing with “sensitive current issues [police shootings and racism] are a no-no” and agent Brooks Sherman was the first of many gatekeepers to tell Thomas that yes, her point of view was vital.
Shortly after working with Sherman, thirteen publishing houses bid aggressively to publish her debut, which ultimately found a home with Donna Bray at Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins.
In the past few months, reviewers have given the book eight starred reviews, Fox 2000 has optioned it for a movie deal, and Thomas has gone on a multi-national book tour. The momentum keeps growing around this novel that is quite different in subject matter than previous young adult and children’s literary novels in recent history.
“Bella is cool, Katniss is cool, but they don’t look like me,” Thomas told The LustList podcast during a live recording in front of a packed house.
Thomas’ novel begins when the main character, Starr Carter, witnesses her childhood best friend get shot and killed by a police officer. Her best friend was unarmed at the time. Readers follow Starr for over four hundred pages through sadness, anger, and ultimately activism.
“Starr’s a Ravenclaw discovering she’s actually a Gryffindor,” author Deidre Sullivan aptly tweeted.
One of Thomas’ main goals in writing the novel was to show the humanity and beauty within her community—the roses in the concrete—and to inspire others to see neighborhoods like hers with something other than contempt.
The title itself is a nod to Tupac, who made the phrase THUG LIFE into an acronym: The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. Much like Tupac, Thomas tries to convey that racism and violence towards and within the black community only perpetuates the cycles of crime, poverty, and hate, like a negative feedback loop. (Watch Tupac explain the motto THUG LIFE here.)
By taking the point of view of a young black female witness, Thomas focuses on a character who in real life is so often judged unfairly, and humanizes an incredibly-overlooked character.
The Hate U Give has risen to the forefront at a time when many agree that race relations are at a painful, all-time low. Thomas began writing the novel after Oscar Grant III was killed by a police officer while waiting for a train in Oakland, CA in 2009. Like Grant, her character Khalil was unarmed.
As similar shootings continued to happen after Grant’s, like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and so many more, Thomas kept returning to her writing to express her outrage.
In recent years, even children’s publishing is taking a closer look at its diversity, and sometimes lack thereof. In a study from 2015, Lee and Low Books found that about 80 percent of industry respondents were Caucasian.
Additionally, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center reported that over the past 12 years, the number of books written by black authors has held relatively steady at only eight percent.
Awareness of the lack of diversity in publishing has risen, and activist groups like We Need Diverse Books have formed with the goal of getting books featuring more diverse characters into the hands of all children; in fact, Angie Thomas was the recipient of WNDB’s Walter Dean Myers Grant and $2000 in support of her writing this novel.
“This isn’t a literary trend,” novelist Jason Reynolds, recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, says, “This is an issue of our time.” Reynolds was an early supporter of Thomas’ novel, calling it “Absoutely riveting,” and allowing the blurb to print on the front jacket of The Hate U Give.
Although reading The Hate U Give won’t allow us to hit the reset button, change any verdicts, or fix the issues in America that have led to THUG LIFE, the writing, and by extension reading, is a form of activism.