2018 Proved Black Kids Read (And White Kids Read Books With Black Leads)
To mark the end of 2018, we asked writers to revisit some of the year’s most noteworthy (for good or evil) events, people and ideas. See the other entries here between now and the new year.
In four years of high school required reading, I encountered only three African-American characters. All were men, and though one had a relatively happy ending ― yay, freedom from slavery! ― the other two, well… One was (spoiler alert) killed while attempting to escape from prison after being wrongfully convicted of a heinous crime. The other, who was slowly coaxed out of his shell and convinced it was okay to dream, was firmly shoved back into his place by a white woman with an ego problem.
All three characters were written by white authors. And none of them got to be heroes.
So in 2016, when a bright — and black — young queen of a woman named Angie Thomas sent me a Word doc of this book she was editing called The Hate U Give, I had no idea what to expect. I assumed it’d be a solid read, considering the 13-house auction over the publishing rights and subsequent quick sale of film rights before the book even had a publishing date. But still, I could count the number of black female heroines I’d encountered in YA books on just a few fingers.
Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared.
Within five pages of that Word doc, I was hooked. I gasped, laughed aloud and verbally responded to passages within the text. Everything felt familiar, from that friend who was always ready to fight somebody, to feeling slightly out of place and not really wanting to dance, to the sudden appearance of the boy from childhood whose presence instantly smoothed all jitters.
And it didn’t stop there. The remaining 400-plus pages were just as gripping. Just as tangible. I felt like I could look out my window to see Devante and them posted up on the corner. A 25-minute drive north would put me in the driveway of my personal Maya’s childhood home. In fact, if I’d had THUG when I was in high school, my personal Hailey wouldn’t have gotten away with half the micro-aggressive crap she said to me.
It was a revelation, The Hate U Give.
Is a revelation.
Because I’m (obviously) not the only reader who felt this way. The book dropped on Feb. 28, 2017, and debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Ninety-three weeks later, it’s still in that spot. Just chillin’.
And it’s not going anywhere. Because on Oct. 5, 2018, the incredible film adaptation hit theaters, and what was already a roaring blaze became a raging inferno, bringing warmth and light to a demographic that for years has not only been underrepresented but completely written off by a majority white, middle-class publishing industry.
The fact that this film was based on a book is a big deal. Angie Thomas was only the second black American author in New York Times history to debut at No. 1 on the YA bestseller list and to have said No. 1 bestseller adapted into a major motion picture.
But what makes “The Hate U Give,” the film, astonishing ― and the reason 2018 solidified it as A Thing That Will Endure ― is the number of middle schools, high schools and colleges that have incorporated the text into curriculums and added it to required reading lists.
THUG is more than a cute book with commercial appeal and a sweet love story. It’s more than just a powerful film with a talented cast. It’s a case study ― a spotlight on a series of dissectible societal problems. It’s full of observable symbolism and themes that stimulate critical thought and spark important conversations. It’s a window, a mirror, and a sliding glass door.
And it’s creating new readers. Kids (like high school me) who don’t like books ― because they either don’t exist in them or because people who look like us are poorly represented in them—are picking up the 460-page opus and burning through it. Then theyre asking for something else like it.
The book and film have made it crystal clear that not only do black kids read… white kids (and adults!) will read books with a black lead.
A black female lead, at that.
And THUG was only the beginning. 2018 saw the success of YA books like The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton and Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, which both debuted on the New York Times bestseller list; Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi has not only stayed on said list for more than 40 weeks, it was also the inaugural pick for the Jimmy Fallon Book Club and has a film adaptation lined up; Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson and Pride by Ibi Zoboi were sophomore novels released to critical acclaim (and a bit of critical controversy ― you tell ’em, Ibi!); bestseller The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo won the National Book Award; and A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney was optioned for television.
2018 was the year a black girl named Starr helped young (and old!) readers and moviegoers across the globe learn the power of their individual voices. People are reading a book and seeing a film adaptation that flips tropes, dismantles stereotypes and humanizes a people group that historically—in books and reality—has been subjected to horrific dehumanization.
And it’s clear from looking at 2018′s best-selling and critically successful YA books that it’s doing just that.