Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray of HarperCollins Children’s Books, Feb. 2017) by Angie Thomas tells the story of one girl’s struggles as she moves between two different worlds. Sixteen-year-old Starr attends a wealthy school in the suburbs but lives in a poor neighborhood. Whatever balance she has created between her two worlds is shattered the night she becomes the only witness when a police officer shoots and kills her unarmed best friend. The Hate U Give explores issues of racism and police violence as it tells a powerful story of one girl’s fight for justice.
Read on for an in-depth interview with Angie Thomas about her inspiration for the story, the writing process and more.
Baker & Taylor: Tell us about the inspiration for this story.
Angie Thomas: I first came up with the concept for The Hate U Give back in 2009-2010, after the death of Oscar Grant, a young black man in Oakland, California, who was killed by police. I was a college student at the time. Despite the fact that my neighborhood was 10 minutes away from my school, they were two separate worlds. My school was very white and upper class, while I came from a mostly black community that was known as “the hood.” Being in those two worlds allowed me to hear two kinds of conversations about Oscar. As the unrest took place in Oakland, I wondered how my community would react if this happened to one of our Oscars, and how a community like my school would react. From that, The Hate U Give was born.
B&T: Share some of your writing and creative process with us. Was the story difficult to write?
AT: I first wrote it as a short story for my senior project in college. It took a few years for me to decide to make it a novel. When I finally did, it was cathartic — all of my emotions about recent cases had built up, and I was able to explore those feelings through the writing process. Before I knew it, I had an entire manuscript written in a few months. (I’m still surprised by that!)
B&T: How did you develop your characters and plot? Were any characters taken from people you know or who have been in the news?
AT: I wanted to make the plot as personal as possible. So often these cases become just
political discussions and people forget that we’re talking about actual human lives. Some characters were definitely influenced by people in my community. I wanted to show the good in neighborhoods like mine, the ones that get such a bad rap. The majority of that good comes from the people themselves.
B&T: What are you most pleased with regarding how the book turned out?
AT: The best thing so far is seeing how it’s affected people. I’ve had readers reach out and
say that it opened their eyes and now they want to make a difference. My favorite scenes though are the ones with Starr and her family. They keep her going through the difficult times, and they honestly kept me going through writing the difficult scenes.
B&T: Much of America is divided on so many issues, including ones involving race and law
enforcement. What’s your message for readers?
AT: That empathy is more powerful than sympathy.
This interview originally appeared in the March issue of Growing Minds, Baker & Taylor’s digital catalog dedicated to upcoming children’s and teen titles. To view the latest edition of Growing Minds visit our website here.