Angie Thomas’s 2017 debut novel, The Hate U Give, has held its place in our hearts (and the New York Times Bestseller List) for half a decade now. The novel shows the effects of police brutality through the eyes of 16-year-old Starr, whose childhood friend is shot and killed by a police officer—a story that, unfortunately, has not gotten less relevant over time. Here’s what you need to know about the acclaimed novel.
1. Angie Thomas started writing The Hate U Give in 2010 after Oscar Grant was killed by a police officer.
In 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant—a young father who had dreams of opening up a barbershop, and who was considered a leader and role model by many in his community—was fatally shot by a white transit officer named Johannes Mehserle at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California. Officer Anthony Pirone had responded to reports of a fight on the platform; when Grant tried to intervene on behalf of one of his friends, he was hit more than once by Pirone, who then restrained him. Mehserle arrived not long after. He said he thought Grant was reaching for a gun in his waistband, and later claimed that he had reached for his taser but mistakenly grabbed his gun instead. Grant, however, was unarmed. Just seven minutes elapsed between the time Pirone got to the platform and when Grant was shot.
Videos of the shooting were uploaded to social media and went viral. Mehserle was charged with murder but was ultimately convicted only of involuntary manslaughter, a verdict that Grant family attorney John Burris called “a true compromise verdict that does not truly and accurately reflect the facts, and we are extraordinarily disappointed at that.” Mehserle served 11 months. Pirone lost his job but never faced criminal charges.
All of this had a significant impact on Thomas, who began writing the short story that would become The Hate U Give in the wake of the case. “At the time, I remember what would happen if that took place in my neighborhood,” she said in 2017. “All of these cases started coming out and it just fueled me and it fueled my frustration, my anger, but it also—I wanted to find a way to find hope. And I wanted to show the human side of all of these cases.”
2. The title The Hate U Give was inspired by Tupac Shakur.
It’s no secret that Shakur is Thomas’s favorite rapper. One of the things that draws Thomas to Shakur is the way he used his music and platform for activism; she uses literature as her form of activism and is an advocate for diversity in publishing, and she has said that she would “like to write the way [Tupac] rapped.” After watching a video of Shakur explaining the meaning behind THUG LIFE, Thomas came to the realization “that that’s not just in my book, but that's what we see in society. When these unarmed Black people lose their lives, the hate they’ve been given screws us all. We see it in the form of anger and we see it in the form of riots. So when I saw that in the video, it was like a sign.”
Shakur wasn’t the only musician who had an influence on Thomas. The group TLC, she says, “really made a lasting impact on me in multiple ways—for one, just seeing young Black women who were so empowered and were willing to use their art to speak up on things that concerned them.” Thomas even got to talk to Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes on the phone when she was 14. “As brief as it was, she changed my life and in some ways saved it,” Thomas tweeted.
3. The main character’s name in The Hate U Give came from Tupac Shakur’s love of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
You might have to buckle in for this explanation. We’ve established that Thomas is a huge Tupac fan; the rapper, meanwhile, was a fan of Van Gogh’s artwork, and Starry Night in particular—so much so that he reportedly said if he ever had a daughter, he would name her Star. Shakur died before having kids, so Thomas decided to name her main character Starr to honor him. But Thomas says there isn’t any hidden meaning behind the extra R—it was just something she could see Starr’s father, Maverick, doing.
4. One character in The Hate U Give has a name inspired by a line from Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry.
Thomas has said that Roll of Thunder is “the first book I ever saw myself in … it was about a Black girl in Mississippi, and I was a Black girl in Mississippi.” The main character, Cassie, “describes her mother as being a disrupting maverick,” Thomas said, and she saw that as the perfect description for Starr’s dad.
5. The Hate U Give received positive attention from both audiences and critics alike.
This story that started out as a passion project for Thomas went on to receive numerous awards and nominations, including the Coretta Scott King Book Award (2018), Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist (2018), Kirkus Prize Finalist (2017), and many more. It has also been translated in over 25 languages!
6. Angie Thomas wrote a prequel to The Hate U Give called Concrete Rose.
The title is a reference to Shakur’s book of poems, The Rose that Grew from Concrete. The novel follows Maverick, Starr’s father in The Hate U Give, as a 17-year-old gang member. After learning that he has a 3-month-old son, Seven, Maverick is faced with a choice of staying in the gang as a means of survival or leaving it behind in hopes of a better future.
7. Before Anthony Mackie became the new face of Captain America, he played a gang leader in the film adaptation of The Hate You Give.
In 2018, The Hate U Give was adapted into a film starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr, Algee Smith as Khalil, Russell Hornsby as Maverick, and Anthony Mackie as King. King is the leader of the local gang, the King Lords, a gang that Maverick was part of as a teen. Anyone who’s read the book can tell you just how terrifying King is, and Mackie does a wonderful job of bringing that to the big screen. When asked about the significance of the unexplained scar on his character’s neck, Mackie stated that “the idea of potentially losing your life either goes one of two ways. It gives you an appreciation of life or it gives you the opportunity to not care so much about [death] because you’ve already seen death. You’re already supposed to be dead, so what’s next?”
8. The book and movie version of The Hate U Give have different endings.
Like many books that make the jump to the big screen, The Hate U Give went through a few changes: Two of Thomas’s favorite characters were cut from the adaptation, and the film also has a totally different ending from the book. We won’t spoil what happens, but part of the reason filmmakers changed the ending is because it seems to more effectively cover the theme of Starr’s revolutionary journey than the more direct ending of the novel.
9. Angie Thomas is a Mississippi native and plans to stay in her home state.
During an interview about On the Come Up—a novel that takes place in Garden Heights, the same fictional neighborhood in which The Hate U Give was based—Thomas talked about how she drew inspiration from her own experiences growing up poor in Mississippi. Though Mississippi is a state with a highly problematic and racist history, Thomas notes that “there are active efforts to move Mississippi forward,” and that's part of what keeps her there. Another factor is the students she's able to impact through her writing, many of whom see themselves reflected in Thomas’s characters.