Leading Discussions on Complex Literature
This semester, I had the opportunity to work with one of my classmates to lead discussion on Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give in our adolescent literature class. I’ve loved this book since I picked it up shortly after it was released in 2017. Furthermore, I was blown away when I met Angie Thomas and watched her speak at the 2017 National Book Festival. There is no denying that Thomas’s debut novel—about a teenage girl dealing with police brutality—is a powerful story, one that needs to be read and discussed.
After leading class discussion, I’ve put together this discussion guide with questions, strategies, and resources for The Hate U Give. This book will be the common read for freshmen at my university’s campus next year. That’s part of the reason I wanted to work with this book, and I look forward to watching students interact with it.
About the Book
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
About the Author
Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, is a #1 New York Times Best Seller. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg attached to star.
Why The Hate You Give?
There are multiple YA novels about police violence and the effects that it can have on the communities which it effects such as All American Boy by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles. Those are all phenomenal reads (and I highly recommend all of them), but I think The Hate U Give in particular offers a good platform for community discussion because it’s not cut and dry. The police aren’t just framed as the antagonists and Starr herself doesn’t always know how to handle a situation. There’s a lot of opportunity to discuss Starr’s actions and the actions of those around her in relation to Khalil’s death. Additionally, while that may be the focus of the novel it goes beyond that into racial microaggressions from Starr’s friends to gang violence in her neighborhood. There are so many topics of conversation that can be had with this book and I think that’s the biggest reason that it’s well suited for discussion.
The Hate U Give deals with police brutality and other contemporary issues; therefore, those issues are going to be at the forefront of discussing the novel. Students reading this novel are going to come to it from different perspectives and backgrounds. Before starting discussion, encourage students to be respectful of their peers.
- How are protesting and youth activism represented in The Hate U Give?
- Thomas positions Starr as unsure whether or not she should speak up. What are her reasons for being unsure? How does that choice affect the novel? What are the stages in her development in this respect? What are the different reasons that she increasingly feels compelled to speak?
- Social movements are often portrayed in different ways. For example, the March for Our Lives has gotten a lot of positive press coverage; however, the Black Lives Matter movement is often discounted or looked upon in a negative light. How do those portrayals fit with Thomas’s conversation about race?
- What do you think about the choice to include sensitive subjects, like police brutality, in young adult novels?
- The Hate U Give has been massively successful, and has remained on The New York Times bestseller list for 60 consecutive weeks at the point of this post’s publication. Do you think this book is successful in part because of how it deals with contemporary issues? What may be other reasons for this novel’s success?
- The Hate U Give discusses gang violence and racism. What is the effect of including multiple contemporary issues in this novel? Does it make it more realistic? How do all of these contemporary issues fit together to tell Starr’s story?
Starr and her family are African American, and race becomes a large part of The Hate U Give based on the aftermath of Khalil’s death and how Starr interacts with her those around her. Race is central to the novel because it is an underlying factor in Starr’s life and in American society.
- As mentioned above, race is central to The Hate U Give because it is an underlying factor in Starr’s life and thus affects her decisions and interactions. How do you see race affecting Starr in the novel? What are some of the challenges that she faces because of her race? What are some places in the novel that you see race take the forefront, such as in Starr’s altercations with Hailey? What can we learn about race, and racism, from these moments in the novel?
- The community of Garden Heights is complicated from small business owners to gang members. How does Thomas display the dynamics of the Garden Heights Community? Why is it important to show diversity in experiences for the characters in this community? Why is it important to represent characters from all walks of life in Garden Heights? What might Thomas be trying to accomplish by showcasing the differences in community members?
- One way Angie Thomas writes representation into The Hate U Give is through the use of code-switching. Starr changes the way she talks and acts depending on which situation she is in. Why does she feel the need to code-switch? What does this add to your understanding of Starr’s anxieties, goals, and training? Starr and her friends also curse throughout the course of the novel; how does their use of cursing factor into the novel?
- Starr is very cognizant about stereotypes, and she doesn’t want to be seen by others as the “angry black girl.” How does Starr fight racial stereotypes? How does stereotyping affect Starr? Why is it important that we don’t rely on stereotypes when interacting with others?
Angie Thomas includes a ton of cultural connections in The Hate U Give. From music to history, there is a space for readers to find connections to the world around them.
- Angie Thomas includes several historical references in her novel, such as the murder of Emmett Till and the Ten Point Program of the Black Panther party. Why do you think she includes these allusions? What is the importance of including historical allusion in contemporary fiction?
- The title of the novel, The Hate U Give, comes from Tupac, a rapper who said, “THUG LIFE” stands for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody.” Tupac has a heavy influence on The Hate U Give, from the title to conversations Starr has with Khalil and Big Mav—why do you think Thomas chose to allude so heavily to Tupac and his music, poetry, and philosophy? Besides the title, where are allusions to Tupac embedded in novel? What do the references to Tupac add to The Hate U Give?
- Thomas doesn’t shy away from connecting her work of fiction to real life. At the end of the novel she includes a list of names of prominent victims of racialized violence including Emmett Till, going beyond police brutality. Why is the inclusion of these names important? Do you think these names add a sense of urgency to the discussion of the racism and violence that are central to the novel? Starr prefaces the list of names by explaining it’s more than about her and Khalil and that one night with a cop? What kind of larger statement about racialized violence might she be making?
- Music plays an important role in The Hate U Give. For example, Starr, Chris, Seven, and Devante sing to NWA’s “Fuck the Police” before joining the rioting. One way to approach this song would be to discuss how it fits in with the action of the story as it takes place, or to discuss how Chris, as a white character, handles the n-word in the song. Another example of music in The Hate U Give would be the theme song for The Fresh Prince of Belair. Were you familiar with any of the songs mentioned? How do the songs add to the scenes in which they appear? What might be Angie Thomas’s reasoning for including music as central to Starr’s relationships?
Friends, Family, Community
Starr is the person she is because of the people around her, and these people play large roles in The Hate U Give.
- Starr’s friends play an important role in The Hate U Give. Why do you think that Thomas gives Hailey problematic qualities? How does Starr, Hailey, and Maya’s friendship function? What does this set of friendships mean for Starr and her experience in The Hate U Give?
- Starr still considers Khalil her friend even though the two aren’t as close as they once were. Why is it important to show Starr and Khalil’s relationship as kids?
- Starr’s family is very important to her. Discuss about the dynamics present in her family. How does the strong relationship between Starr’s parents impact her character? How does Starr’s relationship with her brothers affect the choices that she makes? Why might it be important that Angie Thomas show this strong, connected family in The Hate U Give?
- Big Mav wants to stay in Garden Heights, but decides to find a home outside of the community by the end of the novel. Why does Big Mav’s stance change? What is his perspective on the neighborhood? How does Big Mav’s experience with prison effect his character over the course of the novel?
- On the other hand, Lisa wants to leave Garden Heights, and was instrumental in sending her children to private school outside of Garden Heights. What experiences impacted Lisa? How does she handle the adversity that has affected her family over the years?
- Angie Thomas doesn’t just offer a one-sided view of the police in this novel. Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a policeman, and an admirable one. Why do you think Angie Thomas made Uncle Carlos a cop? How does his characterization round out or complicate the depiction of law enforcement officers in this novel?
- The Garden Heights Community as a whole is supportive of Starr after Kahlil’s death. One big thing they do is start calling her Starr and stop referring to her only as Big Mav’s daughter. Additionally, members of a branch of the King Lords come help Starr’s family by acting as bodyguards when pressure from King starts to mount. Who are other important members of the community and what kind of roles do they play? What does the Garden Heights community add to our understanding of Starr? Why do you think Thomas shows this larger community at play alongside Starr’s relationship with her friends and family?
Dealing with Detractors
Because of the complex subject matter and the language in The Hate U Give, there are likely to be people who will protest its usage. This may also come in the form of resistance from students. This is something I especially predict on my campus this fall where many students come from rural backgrounds with majority-white populations.
- I think that the first step is to ask whoever is concerned about the novel if they have read the book. Encourage them to read the full novel so they can be more informed in any discussion you may have with them.
- Responses to those who have qualms about a novel should be specific. Find out exactly what they don’t like about the novel. Are there any opportunities to find common ground in your discussions with those who don’t like the novel? Are there ways to use textual evidence to enrich the conversation and round out the perspectives on it from all sides?
- The subject matter of police violence may bring hesitance from many readers. Bring in statistics about police violence or discuss the prevalence of these topics on social media. Readers are already likely being exposed to this subject. The Hate U Give provides an avenue through which they can discuss these topics and gain more well-rounded perspectives.
- It’s important to acknowledge that readers who don’t like the novel may not change their minds about it. Be respectful and empathetic in conversations; don’t get aggressive or standoffish. Respect others’ opinions even if you don’t agree with them, and do your best to inform others, not argue with them
- Kirkus Review’s evaluation of The Hate U Give
- The IMDB page for The Hate U Give movie
- A Variety of Interviews with Angie Thomas:
- Angie Thomas’s Boston Globe-Horn Book award speech
- Angie Thomas’s playlist of songs for The Hate U Give
- The Black Panther 10 Point Program
- The New York Times has an article about police brutality and race in young adult novels that features The Hate U Give
- Police Violence Statistic
- Information about Emmett Till
- Naomi Wadler speaks at March for Our Lives
The Hate U Give was one of my favorite novels of 2017 and I enjoyed leading discussion on it as well as creating this discussion guide. As always, I’m an undergraduate English major without formal training in lesson-planning. However, I helped lead other undergrads in this conversation, and this book will be in the hands of thousands of freshmen in Fall 2018, so an undergraduate perspective on the novel may be of value. There may be challenges in teaching this text and utilizing it on campus-wide, so expect more posts from me about The Hate U Give next fall 😊
If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please send them my way so I can improve upon this post, because this is a crucial novel to be discussing and I want my work on it to be as informed and effective as possible.