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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.
The chapter opens with Starr remembering the lecture Maverick gave her twelve-year-old self about how to act around police, right around when her mother, Lisa, gave Starr the sex talk. Maverick told Starr to do whatever the police tell her, keep her hands visible, not make sudden moves, and only speak when spoken to.
Khalil pulls the car over. When the police officer asks him for identification, Khalil demands to know the reason for the stop. Starr remembers Maverick’s instructions to make note of the cop’s appearance and badge number. His badge number is one-fifteen, and Starr continues to refer to him by this number. One-Fifteen asks where they came from, but Khalil insists that it is none of One-Fifteen’s business. Starr panics and realizes that Khalil did not get the police talk from a parent. One-Fifteen tells Khalil that his tail light is broken. Khalil continues to complain, and One-Fifteen forces him to get out of the car. One-Fifteen searches Khalil, presumably for drugs, but finds nothing. As he heads back to his car, One-Fifteen warns Khalil and Starr not to move. However, while One-Fifteen walks away, Khalil opens the car door so that he can check on Starr. One-Fifteen shoots Khalil.
Starr jumps out of the car to check on Khalil, only to have One-Fifteen point his gun at her.
Chapter One introduces the reader to Starr’s voice, establishing her as a thoughtful and engaging narrator. The immediacy of Starr’s narration means that she observes and reacts first before reflecting. Her experience of feeling abandoned at the party, therefore, becomes large enough to fill a chapter with her emotions because she does not have the benefit of knowing that a life-changing tragedy looms on the horizon. The present tense keeps the reader very close to Starr’s feelings at all times, making her easy to empathize with. While Starr is limited by her perception of events, she never intentionally misleads the reader or attempts to save face by distorting the truth. Even when Starr lies to another character, such as when she pretends to recognize people at the party, she tells the reader the truth behind her actions.
Read an in-depth analysis of Starr Carter.
Chapter One also shows how Starr’s school life at Williamson Prep has damaged her ability to feel comfortable in Garden Heights. Starr is both embarrassed by Garden Heights and feels inadequate in it. Because she cannot act like a teenager from Garden Heights at Williamson, and she cannot act like a Williamson student in Garden Heights, Starr tends to distance herself. Starr’s sense of alienation causes her to harshly judge the people at the party from the moment she walks in. She equates the provocative dancing with teen pregnancy not as an impartial observer, but because she feels out of place, and admits later in the chapter that promiscuity happens everywhere. Her insecurity particularly emerges when she reflects on how she must earn coolness in Garden Heights. Starr has been away from the teenage social scene in her neighborhood and no longer feels confident in her ability to fit in. This insecurity suggests Starr feels inauthentically black in her own neighborhood.
Read more about Garden Heights as a symbol.
These two chapters offer the only glimpse of a living Khalil and reveal him to be kind but conflicted. Thomas quickly emphasizes Khalil’s inner sweetness when Starr notes that Khalil’s dimples ruin his “G” (gangster) persona. These dimples, which keep Khalil from looking tough, disappear when Starr asks him why he’s been busy, which symbolizes the way Khalil has fallen in with a bad crowd. Starr also notes several times that Khalil now makes world-weary comments or choices that sound like her parents. This disgruntlement both foreshadows his death and introduces the troubling theme that children in Garden Heights take on adult responsibilities very young. Starr clearly has conflicted feelings about Khalil that mirror her conflicted feelings about Garden Heights. She finds Khalil incredibly attractive and cool, but also expresses anger at him for selling drugs, just as she identifies the social scene in Garden Heights to be intimidatingly cool but also dangerous.
Chapter Two provides the inciting event for the action of The Hate U Give and serves as an important record of what really happened. Through Starr’s observations and our understanding of her as a reliable narrator, we know that One-Fifteen’s use of deadly force is shocking and unnecessary. For most of the chapter, Starr’s narration avoids her usual digressions and analysis except when she thinks about her father’s advice on how to speak to police. The lack of analysis serves two purposes. First, the directness gives the impression that Starr is too scared to think beyond what is happening directly and how to keep herself safe. Second, Starr’s lack of verbal filters means she reports exactly what she is experiencing. No matter what speculation happens in later chapters, the immediacy of Starr’s narration here means Chapter Two has the most accurate depiction of what happened the night One-Fifteen shot Khalil.
Read more about “One-Fifteen” as a symbol.
Finally, Chapters One and Two set up the twin forces of violence in Garden Heights—the gangs and the police—as the embodiment of “hate” described in the “Thug Life” acronym. Gun violence disrupts a party because of hatred between gangs, with teenagers as both perpetrators and victims. From Kenya’s unfazed reaction, readers can infer that this violence is commonplace enough to barely distract Kenya from boy drama. Similarly, the racist prejudice of One-Fifteen turns a routine act—dropping a friend off at home after a party—deadly. Just like the victims of the party, Khalil and Starr are minors, and yet One-Fifteen treats them as dangerous threats. Starr describes Maverick’s police talk in the same sentence as her mother’s teenage sex talk, which suggests similar discussions are common rites of passage for the black teenagers of Garden Heights. Although the gangs and the police may seem diametrically opposed, for the teenagers of Garden Heights, both forces haunt and mar common teenage experiences.
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