Angie Thomas's debut novel, The Hate U Give, is a powerful and moving story that explores themes of racism, police brutality, and the struggle for justice and equality, drawing conclusions about the necessity of finding and then using one’s voice in support of that struggle. Set in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Garden Heights, the novel follows the story of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old girl who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil Harris, at the hands of a white police officer. As Starr navigates the aftermath of the shooting, she is forced to confront issues of race, identity, and privilege while grappling with the fear and anger of living in a community plagued by violence and injustice.
The major conflict in the novel is the tension between the Black community of Garden Heights and the white-dominated power structure that seeks to control it. The shooting of Khalil Harris serves as the novel’s inciting incident and a catalyst for this conflict, highlighting the systemic racism and prejudice that underlie the actions of law enforcement and the justice system. The event occurs early in the book, and Starr is forced to grapple with the trauma of witnessing the shooting and the fear and anger that come with it. As Starr and her family struggle to seek justice for Khalil, they face resistance from the police, the media, and even their community. They are forced to confront and better understand the painful reality of a society that has yet to recognize that it values Black lives less than it values white lives.
During the novel’s rising action, Thomas emphasizes the relationship between Starr’s internal struggle and the conflict arising in the community and the characters around her. These events include Starr's decision to keep the fact that she witnessed Khalil's shooting a secret from her white friends and boyfriend at school, the media attention and protests that follow Khalil's shooting, and the decision of Starr's father, a former gang member, to speak out against the injustice of Khalil's shooting. When Starr confronts her white boyfriend, Chris, over his lack of understanding and empathy for the experiences of people of color, he seems incapable of understanding what she understands about the grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who shot Khalil. Their conflict serves as a symbolic reflection of the same conflict that will spark the riot in Garden Heights, an event that puts Starr and her family in danger.
At the novel's climax, Starr is forced to confront her own fears, as well as the systemic racism of the broader community. As she testifies before the grand jury about what she witnessed the night Khalil was shot, she is grilled by the prosecutor and is forced to defend Khalil's character and actions. The tension in the courtroom is palpable as Starr's testimony and resistance to her own fears become a pivotal moment in the fight for justice for Khalil.
As the novel moves toward its resolution, Starr and her family struggle to come to terms with the fact that the police officer who shot Khalil will not be held accountable for his actions. During the falling action, the family's grief is compounded by the fact that Starr's father has been arrested for his involvement in the riot that followed the grand jury decision. The family is left to pick up the pieces and find a way to move forward in the wake of this tragedy.
The novel's conclusion sees Starr and her family leaving Garden Heights to start a new life, as if their only hope lies in escape. Starr, however, has changed. She has found her own distinct, brave, and insistent voice and will use it to speak out against injustice. The novel, although justice for Khalil may have been denied, ends on a hopeful note. Starr realizes that she must work to make a difference and that her voice matters.