Thursday, April 6, 2017

Book Review - Contrarian view

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (here) is getting a lot of positive review right now. As a rule, I don't seek out book reviews, you will have to do that on your own. But be warned, Harper Collins has a big lust on right now for this book and reviewers are eager to please.

This reader just doesn't love this book. By a lot. Angie Thomas brings the issue of the shooting of black men into the spotlight. Khalil is killed by a policeman. Khalil has not provoked the policeman, nor has been detained for anything other than a broken brake light. He leans into the door to see if his companion, Starr, is alright, when he is shot three times in the back. He dies in seconds.

Starr is the main protagonist. She is a successful high school basketball player, going to a private white school outside of Garden Heights, Starr's neighbourhood. She travels two worlds, that of the very rich white teens and that of her deeply troubled inner city section of the city. At Khalil's death she is faced with the challenges of being the only witness to a race-related killing. She must tell her story to the police, to the DA, a grand jury and eventually, her friends. She has hidden her connection to the killing to her white classmates and white boyfriend.

Starr's journey to voicing in a public way is the main plot line. There is a large cast of supporting characters. Starr's father, Mav (Maveric) is the only well drawn character and that is only in relation to the others. I don't have any problem with the story line or the points of view. My problem with this book is that I don't think it is well written. I don't believe in the characters. The settings have a thin veneer. The characters are for the most part stereotypes that we expect to find in an inner city area, the tough gang kids, the bossy older ladies, the innocent younger kids, the gang lord, a few good guys hidden behind their tough exteriors and lots of references to popular culture to make sure you know where you are. In this book, emotions are the driving engine to action. I never really was convinced by Starr's grief, her anger and eventually her 'fuck you' attitude when she finally decides to really be Khalil's voice.

We are told everything. We don't see the dirt in the streets, the colours or smells of the two neighbourhoods, the wealth in the private school. We don't taste the barbeques or hear the music. If we don't know who Tupac is, we have to google it later. We are told Starr cries and gets a snooty nose. She doesn't wipe the snot on the back of her sleeve. I could not get into Starr or anyone else except her Dad.

And so, I couldn't get into the story Angie Thomas is trying to tell. It is a hugely important story but a decent journalist's article could do a better job. There is no reason for any person of any colour to be shot in the back by any trained professional. That's why they are trained, to know what to do before a gun needs to be drawn. The fact that this is happening to black youth, men in particular, is abhorrent. 

I return to my opening statement, this book is about telling us something is very wrong. It does do that, but it is not well written. To be a book that deserves all the hype it is getting, it has to have merit that goes beyond being timely.  It needs to capture our hearts, to feel the pain, to want to tell it's story to others to that they might read the book too. I'll donate my copy to the library so it can be read by others, but I won't recommend it. What this book has done has motivated me to get the the book (here) The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I'll talk about it when I'm finished, to let you know if it does a better job of engaging me.

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