The narrator of The Hate U Give is a teenager named Starr Carter. As the novel opens, Starr attends a spring break party with her friend Kenya in her home neighborhood, Garden Heights, and instantly feels out of place. Kenya accuses Starr of acting stuck up because Starr attends Williamson Prep, a fancy, majority-white school. In contrast, the residents of Garden Heights are primarily poor and black. Kenya is one of the few Garden Heights friends Starr keeps in touch with because they share a half-brother, Seven.
Kenya gossips about a girl named Denasia, who accused Kenya of flirting with a boy named DeVante. Kenya tells Starr she’s lucky that she doesn’t have to deal with girls like Denasia at Williamson, but Starr counters that promiscuity is universal. Other teens greet Kenya. They recognize Starr from elementary school and her father, Maverick’s, store, but Starr does not remember them. Kenya goes off with her friends, leaving Starr alienated and abandoned. She laments that at Williamson, blackness bestows her with coolness as long as she doesn’t bring up the difficulties associated with blackness, but in Garden Heights, coolness must be earned.
Starr runs into Khalil, her childhood best friend. Khalil is handsome with dimples that keep him from looking tough. She asks why she hasn’t seen him around, and Khalil replies that he’s been busy. From this statement and his new clothes, Starr understands that Khalil likely has been dealing drugs. They update each other on their families. Khalil wants to speak with Maverick about something but refuses to tell Starr what.
Suddenly, gunshots sound out. Khalil and Starr run toward Khalil’s car. Starr cannot find Kenya but texts to make sure she is safe. Once in the car, Khalil complains that in Garden Heights they can’t have a party without a shooting, sounding like Starr’s parents. Khalil thinks the fight was likely a dispute between the two neighborhood gangs, The King Lords and the Garden Disciples. Starr explains to the reader that her father used to be a member of the King Lords but quit.
While in the car, Khalil plays Tupac Shakur’s album “Thug Life.” Starr teases him for playing older music, but Khalil insists the album still holds relevance. He explains that “Thug Life” is an acronym that stands for “The hate u give little infants f---s everyone,” which means that society’s violence creates problems for itself. This prompts Starr to ask Khalil whether he’s dealing drugs. Khalil tells her to mind her own business. He insists he needs more money than a minimum wage job because his grandmother lost her job after cancer treatments caused her to miss work.
Starr’s half-brother Seven texts, furious at Starr for going to the party. From the look on Starr’s face, Khalil recognizes instantly that Seven is the one who texted. They reminisce about growing up together with their friend Natasha and acutely feel Natasha’s absence. Police sirens interrupt their conversation.