Once in awhile a book throws you for a loop with dialogue so strong that you can hear the voices inside your head. This is one of those books. It's a priceless read. Go out and get it right now. Caution: there is swearing. Be assured that there is only as much swearing as you might hear in the typical middle school locker room.
I came across this book on Twitter, of all places, when I discovered a really important hashtag: #ourvoices. If you search under #ourvoices you will find a wealth of titles, authors, and fans of books written by members of historically marginalized groups…ranging from the obvious to the obscure. The point, of course, is that we all want and NEED books written BY those voices themselves. We all know that the United States is increasingly made up of people of color. Yet, a shocking proportion of books for children featuring racially diverse characters are written by white authors! According to the FiveThirtyEight statistical website, racial diversity among authors of children's literature is sadly lacking. For example, it appears that while between 2002 and 2014, African-Americans have been featured in about 3-5% of books received by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, only a dismal 2-3% are authored BY African-American writers.
This is wrong for so many reasons, but at bottom, every perspective is valuable, and a missing voice is a missing voice.
There's a delicate problem that I think many white authors dance around, which is that you don't have to be an 18th century naval captain in order to write a sea story. It's okay for a gay writer to write a straight character, and it's okay for an older woman to write in the voice of a younger man. And if you are white, it's okay to choose to write a non-white character. There's a fair degree of online vitriol that I see when it comes to #ownvoices, and it misses the point, I feel, if it dwells excessively on “authenticity.” There seem to be many angry readers and writers who feel that writers can't write “authentically” about any experiences but their own. I remember feeling irritation when Memoirs of a Geisha came out, because the author was a white male and the protagonist was a Japanese female speaking in the first person–so I understand the sentiment. As an Asian-American female I thought the author had some nerve. But literature is a wide, wide world. We can't get uptight about books that fail to resonate. Those are individual books. You can't create a rule that works for all books. All books written by Asians about Asians aren't going to be well-executed. But we do need to clamor for more books written by Asians about Asians, so that we have the option of reading those perspectives at all.
So back to The Hate U Give. The teenaged opinion in my household said, simply: the voice in this book is real, and it needs to be exactly how it is. One of my girls said, “I think everyone needs to read this book.” For once, we weren't reading ABOUT “black lives matter.” Instead, we were IN “black lives matter.” We care about the people in this book, and when they suffer, we suffer. This is how you bring people together. “Black lives matter” isn't a slogan anymore. ALL lives matter. We need more of this. I'm halfway through the book now and it totally ROCKS. Pick it up, and then give Angie Thomas a shout-out on Twitter and tell her you loved it. This is her first book. Let's get her to write more.