This August I had the pleasure to hear Angie Thomas speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival. Her novel, “The Hate U Give” has been first on the New York Times best sellers list for 29 weeks in a row (last time I checked) and is the most outstanding YA novel for 2017. In fact, this novel has the makings of a classic and I wouldn’t be surprised if it became mandatory reading for high school English class.
When Starr’s childhood friend Khalil is shot by the police after a party, Starr watches her friend die before her eyes. The novel follows Starr and her family in the weeks after the incident and explores whether the officer who murdered Khalil is held responsible for his crime and whether true justice is served.
This novel provides a voice for black Americans and describes their experiences of racism. It has been called the book about the “black lives matter” movement. Before I read this book, I didn’t really understand this movement. I didn’t doubt that police brutality was a thing for a second. However, I didn’t really understand how corruption in the police force effected disadvantaged individuals and communities to the extent I do now.
“The Hate U Give” is eye opening. It is a difficult uncomfortable read, because it deals with painful topics that exist all too well in today’s world. It is a book that promotes empathy and change.
During Angie Thomas’s keynote speech at the Melbourne Writers Festival, she discussed how art can promote change – perhaps even by changing the world. She talked about the teenage audience and how writing books for them can influence how young people think and influence how they’ll vote further down the road. In this sense, YA books are so, so important for promoting cultural change.
After hearing Angie’s speech, I realised that as a YA writer, I had a responsibility to my audience to represent the difficulties of the world fairly and accurately, but also to suggest how it might improve. I also appreciated how Angie didn’t put down YA fiction in escapist genres. She agreed that escapism was important and that there were parallels between escapist worlds with our own.
If you haven’t read “The Hate U Give” I suggest you strongly consider it. It is well written and raises relevant issues to today’s society. It definitely provokes the reader to think well and hard about these issues as well.