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Bourke's Banned Bookshelf: ‘You can’t destroy a movement’

This week's banned book feature is "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.

The Hate U Give
This week's banned book feature is "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch
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It’s been a while since writing has made me lose my sense of reality as completely as Angie Thomas’ did.

Theresa Bourke headshot

I don’t consider myself a very fast reader, but I devoured all 444 pages of “The Hate U Give” in just three days, staying up until 4 a.m. one morning because I just couldn’t stop.

I’ll be honest, I had no idea what this book was about when I picked it up, only that it was No. 5 on the American Library Association’s list of most commonly banned and challenged books last year and was a title I recognized from seeing trailers for the movie version a few years back. But I could not be more grateful that I decided to pick it up.

‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter has two lives she tries to keep separate. There’s the home life in Garden Heights, a poor Black neighborhood where she doesn’t have to watch what she says and is known primarily as “Big Mav’s daughter who works at the store.”

Then there’s the Starr who goes to private school in a more affluent neighborhood 45 minutes away. That Starr has to remember to use proper grammar while speaking and always keep her cool so she isn’t labeled a “thug” or “Angry Black Girl” in a predominantly white setting.

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But her two lives threaten to merge on the tragic night when Starr witnesses a police officer shoot and kill her unarmed friend, Khalil, during a traffic stop. And what’s worse? It’s not the first friend she’s seen die right before her eyes.

The nightmares keep her up at night, and compartmentalizing while at school becomes nearly impossible, especially when word spreads of Khalil’s death. Starr doesn’t know how long she can keep up the charade of being far removed from the events of that night or if she can find the bravery she needs to talk to cops, lawyers, jurors, reporters and the rest of the world about what she saw. She doesn’t think her words can make any difference but soon learns her voice is not only the most powerful weapon she has but quite possibly the only one, especially when Khalil’s memory is being reduced to a drug-dealing thug instead of the incredible friend who risked so much for his family.

The hate given

Published in 2017 as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, “The Hate U Give” came at a time when names like Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice dominated headlines.

It has been challenged in and removed from several school classrooms and libraries in that time, with parents citing expletives and vulgarities, and police groups worried about indoctrination.

Yes, there is language in the book that I don’t think a lot of parents would care for their teenagers to use, and for the sake of young eyes who might see this paper, I’m going to play it safe with the wording.

This week's banned book feature is "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou.
This week's banned and challenged book is "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.
This week's featured banned book is Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," No. 8 on the American Library Association's list of Top 10 most banned and challenged books in 2021.
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer is No. 55 on the American Library Association's 100 most frequently banned and challenged books from 2010-19.

Let’s start with the title of the book, which comes from the ‘90s hip hop group Thug Life, which included rapper Tupac Shakur. Tupac stated in an interview the band’s name was actually an acronym, which stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody.” Khalil explains this phrase to Starr in the book shortly before he dies, and she later discusses it with other characters. The idea is that the racism and marginalization experienced by minority kids — especially Black youth — negatively affects an entire society. I think that’s an extremely powerful sentiment, made even stronger with the use of an expletive. Starr’s father, though, admonishes her for using the “f” word when she reiterates the acronym to him, showing that even he isn’t comfortable with his daughter’s cursing. The language is used to make a point in the story but isn’t necessarily condoned as appropriate for children.

“The Hate U Give” was challenged at North Allegheny High School in Pennsylvania in 2022 but stayed in the curriculum. It was removed from all school libraries in Texas’ Katy Independent School District in 2017 in response to a parent complaint. It was later returned after an uproar but only available to students with parental consent. It was suspended from classrooms in ROWVA High School in Oneida, Illinois in 2021 but kept in the school’s libraries.

In 2019, the Fraternal Order of Police in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina sought to have the book removed from Wando High School’s list of optional reading assignments for incoming freshman, saying it was “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police and we’ve got to put a stop to that.”

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In some of these instances, the book was not required reading for students, and in some parents had the option to opt their students out. But instead of leaving the book be or asking for their child to read something else, the parents’ response was to remove the option for all kids to read something that might end up teaching a valuable lesson.

Some of those who fought back against the book’s removal said it was an especially important story in areas with little diversity among the student body. As someone who has lived their entire life in the rural Midwest, surrounded almost entirely by people who look like me, I couldn’t agree more. The perspectives brought by reading books outside our comfort zones are so valuable. There were so many quotes from “The Hate U Give” that stuck out to me, and I’m grateful to have found a book to challenge my thinking in such a way.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: BOOKS
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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