I am still shocked by what happened to Trayvon Martin.  It’s been five years and I wrestle with the insanity of a country that thinks a murderer like George Zimmerman can go free.

I am still ashamed of the mystery behind the death of Sandra Bland. I don’t know how she died but I don’t believe it was suicide and the evidence doesn’t point to that.

And Eric Garner?  Eric Garner was killed in broad daylight.

It’s hard to even know how to respond when people are robbed of their very lives for no other reason than the color of their skins.  But, in addition to movements like Black Lives Matter, art is being born that helps shed light on how these situations occur.

The main story of this gripping, intense novel is that the protagonist, a teenage girl watches her best friend get murdered by a policeman.  This novel is by turns stark and sad and drew tears from my eyes.  It also is deeply funny and real- I’m drawn to Starr and her family,who seem familiar to me.

I grew up in two sections of the Bronx- Fordham and Melrose, which is the South Bronx. For the most part, I have good memories of police officers.  Most of the NYPD in our neighborhood were people of color, often from the neighborhood.  But if you grew up in any poorer neighborhood of NYC, you definitely saw things that bordered on police cruelty- stop and frisks for no reason, scenes where victims were treated like the enemy. In general, that is what I remember: ‘us’ meaning the people of the neighborhood vs ‘them,’ or the outsiders who impose viewpoints and judgements about people.

The drug wars of the ’80s and ’90s really escalated the siege mentality.  It was scary time in New York City in general and racial conflicts were a part of my formative years: Bensonhurst, Crown Heights riots, Howard Beach, Bernie Goetz- it was a mess and was very violent.

My experiences growing up let me relate to situations Starr describes.  She’s a smart girl who goes to an elite school, but her home and neighborhood are a different reality. It’s not as if she doesn’t see the brightness and good in her neighborhood.  Starr describes a sense of community and her Dad, who teaches his children the Black Panther 10 Point Platform, is a business owner at the heart of their block, and her Mom is a nurse. But poverty, gang violence, and drugs take a toll.

“The Hate U Give” is insightful for many reasons- the book shows you what it means to be a teenager in urban black America and navigating the culture you live in plus the culture at large (Starr references Harry Potter, The fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Tupac as part of her everyday cultural reality), and the violence that can be inflicted on your body just because you exist.  I was scared for her, for her family, and deeply moved by the story of Khalil.

You should read this book. It is extremely relevant.  But it’s also just a wonderful book, told with style, great pacing, and humor. I found Starr’s parents and siblings really lovable. Her Dad and Mom are probably my age and the struggle to have a loving home, food on the table, set educational goals for the family, and live up to a sense of community are the struggles of plenty of people I know.

The biggest takeaway for me is not to judge young men and women whose shoes you have never lived in. I’ve rarely read a YA novel that captures a time so well- to really understand this time of violence and the struggles of people of color and the friction with police, I highly recommend you pick this book up.