There have never been any strict rules on the young adult genre. As long as the protagonist is a teen, everything else is pretty much fair game. Pregnancy and drug use? Bring it on. A psychotic stalker obsessed with a group of teenage girls? Let’s make it a torturous teen television show. A boy in an abusive adoptive household who learns he’s a wizard? International, best-selling franchise.
When my Granny would let my preteen self loose in that section of the bookstore under the guise that it was age-appropriate, I felt like I was pulling the biggest scam. From my perspective, she was unknowingly footing the bill for books with super scandalous plot devices. But what I always loved about the young adult genre was that it acknowledged that young people have complex lives that address heavy issues, too. Given that commitment, it was only a matter of time before someone in the contemporary era used the genre to explore the Black Lives Matter movement.
As of today, you can read The Hate U Give, a new novel written by Angie Thomas. It’s about a Black teenager named Starr Carter who is dating a white boy, code-switching between cultures at her elite private school and violence-riddled neighborhood, and witnessing the murder of her friend Khalil at the hands of police. The 16-year-old is conflicted on whether or not to testify against the officer who killed Khalil, a decision that puts her own young life in danger.
The story has already been picked up to be turned in movie by Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions. Not bad at all for Thomas’s first novel. Documenting the current fight for Black liberation is well underway in film and television with documentaries like 13th and scripted series like Shots Fired. But The Hate U Give is finally bringing the movement to young people in the imaginative sense, and it’s exactly the kind of story we need right now. Not only does it feature a female protagonist with a dynamic story line, it brilliantly weaves in contemporary issues and pop culture.
This book could very well usher in my personal return to a genre that started my love for literature. I may even revisit some of my urban fiction favorites while I’m at it.