Khalil’s shooting and the ongoing investigation of Officer Cruise put the theme of injustice at the forefront of the novel. The fact that Khalil was unarmed and did not threaten the officer makes his murder unjust. The police are unjust at other points, too, such as when they force Maverick to the ground and pat him down. Race is tied into this theme of injustice as well, since pervasive racism prevents African-Americans from obtaining justice. Starr and Maverick in particular are focused on bringing justice not only for Khalil but also for African-Americans and other oppressed groups, such as the poor. The activist group that Starr joins is called Just Us for Justice because it fights against police maltreatment on the basis of race. At the end of the novel, Starr accepts that injustice might continue but reinforces her determination to fight against it.
The theme of community is significant to the novel, as seen in the way that Garden Heights residents draw together in the face of unspeakable tragedy. At the end of the novel, when Starr and her friends and family work to rebuild Maverick’s store, they are supported by cries of encouragement from passerby. This reflects the strong sense of community felt by those who live in Garden Heights, even after their neighborhood has faced physical and emotional destruction. The importance of community is the factor that keeps Maverick tied to the Garden Heights house even though he recognizes that the area is more dangerous than the suburbs. It’s evident in the way that Ms. Rosalie’s neighbors bring her food when there is no other way they can express their deep sympathy. It’s also why Maverick is so determined to help DeVante get out of the gang system, because he knows that the gangs bring about ruptures in the unity of the community.
Race is central to the story that The Hate U Give tells. Starr’s identity is heavily informed by her race, and Khalil's death is due in part to entrenched racism in the police force. The tension that Starr feels between Garden Heights and Wiliamson Prep is due to differences in wealth and in race. Most of her classmates at school are white, but most of her neighbors are black; Starr feels torn between making sure she’s not seen as “too black” at school and making sure she's not “too white” at home. The novel is also undeniably a celebration of blackness. The stereotypes and racism to which African-Americans are subjected is revealed to be extremely pervasive and harmful, even bringing about the death of innocent young men. By dealing directly with the issues of police brutality and protest, the book enters the broader conversation about race relations in America.
One of the central issues that Starr faces is a struggle with belonging. From the very beginning of the novel, Starr recognizes that her personality is two-sided. When she’s at Williamson, Starr worries that her classmates will think she’s “too ghetto.” She recognizes that being one of the few black students at the school makes her automatically “cool,” but at the same time she censors her own behavior to fit in. Back at home, however—as evidenced by how she feels at Big D’s party—people say that Starr thinks she’s “all that” and doesn’t hang out with them enough, because she attends Williamson. Because of this struggle, Starr is never truly able to be herself in any situation. As the novel progresses, however, Starr learns to embrace both sides of herself, and she brings both sides of her personality together along with friends from both of the spheres of her life.
Many people tell Starr that she is brave for speaking up about Khalil, especially when she gives a nationally televised interview. Starr, however, does not share this view. She protests that she isn’t brave, that she has been “misdiagnosed” by the people around her who commend her courageousness. It takes Lisa’s perspective to point out that bravery is not the same thing as not being afraid. In fact, the very nature of bravery is to act in the face of fear, to refuse to back down even when the task is frightening. By the end of the novel, Starr undeniably demonstrates bravery when she stands on the top of the patrol car to give a speech, lead a chant, and ultimately throw a can of tear gas back at the police. Starr’s future in activism will likely be fueled by her continued bravery, which is inspired by the connection she feels with her loved ones both living and dead.
Just as community is an important part of The Hate U Give, family is central to the novel as well. The book offers a perspective on nontraditional families and the way these families provide support systems. For example, Starr’s family is atypical because Seven doesn’t live with the family; he has a different mother than Starr and Sekani. Nevertheless, Maverick and Lisa are able to support Seven in many different ways: they go to his graduation, convince him to go to college outside of the city, talk to him about the importance of not joining a gang, and watch out for him when he goes to the park the day after riots. However, the book explores dysfunctional families as well. King abuses Iesha and his children, and DeVante essentially sacrifices himself in order to remove King from the household, because Iesha is unable or unwilling to stand up to him.
Starr struggles with speaking up for Khalil for a variety of reasons. She worries that she doesn’t deserve to defend Khalil since they had grown far apart in the time before Big D’s party. She is also afraid to speak up, and in the midst of trauma and grief, it’s difficult for her to take on such an emotionally taxing project as standing up for Khalil in the face of national attention. Kenya inspires Starr to speak up because of her resounding logic: Khalil would have fought for Starr, had she been the one to get shot that night. Maverick also explains that Tupac would have wanted Starr to use her voice, because she can help fight against the oppressive systems that keep minorities from getting ahead. By the end of the book, it’s clear that Starr has conquered her fears and recognized the importance of speaking up.
The Hate U Give Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Hate U Give is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.