The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give is a contemporary young adult novel by Angie Thomas that will break your heart. It’s clear from the onset that this book isn’t solely for a young audience, that it will appeal to all ages. It’s a story of vital and increasing importance, I read it just before the murder of Ahmaud Arbery when it felt as though the Black Lives Matter Movement was quiet from this side of the planet. It’s heart wrecking to think that this story is so pertinent to the times we live in. This is a poignant story set at the heart of the Black Lives Matter Movement, one that conveys the injustice of structural racism in police systems. Star, the young protagonist has just witnessed the murder of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. She feels she stands out as a black girl in her predominantly white school, doesn’t think she fits in with her black peers in her hood, and she’s struggling with the complexities of a mixed race relationship. 

  When I was younger I used to becry writers appearing to talk down to teens, Thomas definitely does not do this. She has created a brilliant, sharp protagonist with a powerful voice dealing with a humongously complex situation in Khalil’s murder. She doesn’t come off as the type of ‘nobody understands me’ teen, the character has undergone a trauma which no one will understand and she treats it carefully. Thomas isn’t reductive with any part of the narrative or Starr’s personality. She deftly deals with the fact that Khalil’s murder isn’t the only problem Starr has to face, though it’s a huge struggle for her. It shows how her struggles with her identity and her relationships are affected, how they affect her mental health and how Kahlil’s murder in turn affect them. I thought it was brilliantly handled. 

   The plot is probably what draws most people to the book. Thomas brings the Black Lives Matter Movement to the fore of the novel. A young black boy being shot by police officers while his friend is the only witness. The media’s reaction to it. How people treat the witness. The dichotomy between black and white responses to the situation. The labelling of Khalil as a thug uncritically. It’s a dramatic and critical response to a harsh situation. One that seems to be neverendingly pertinent. It’s such an important dialogue to be having not only with teenagers but amongst adults too – how to spot structural and internalised racism. It serves as a stiff reminder that we need to actively examine race within power structures.

   Starr’s family relationship too is something to be lauded. I thoroughly enjoyed her relationship with her mam. When it’s so easy to fall into the trope of the hurt teenager taking it out on her parents, Thomas gives us the antidote. It made my heart so warm to read a loving and close relationship between mother and daughter. I feel almost as if it were a heartfelt personal letter to a caring mother. It’s exceptional to see such a mature outlook in a young adult novel, the rarity of that is unbelievable. Which bolsters the point that she doesn’t treat her character’s personality in a reductive manner. I personally think it’s a great didactic and something a lot more writers should attempt – the whole having teens see their parents as humans and being empathetic towards them. 

TLDR: you need to read this regardless of age and race it’s very important. Black Lives Matter is still an important movement the murder of Ahmaud Arbery is further proof of it. This is a great book to understand why it’s important if you don’t already – or if you’re going to argue that all lives matter. 

Review of Murakami’s ‘Norwegian Wood’

Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is a love story set in 1960s Japan. I think that when people deem stories to be love stories, it can be very difficult to separate the idea that you will be reading about love, from cliche romance depicted in Hollywood chick flicks. – Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it’s just not really how Murakami depicts love in this story. And, honestly that’s not the type of love story I’m generally interested in. His story articulates something more complex than what can simply be described as a love story; he astutely conveys the complexities of friendship and sexual relations during formative young adult years in college. What resonates from this, is the difficulty people have both being honest and understanding others because of the former. This story seemed so contemporary in style to me that I wondered at times why no one was googling shit or texting, so it is apparent that it’s timeless in its storytelling. 

   One of the most beautiful and realistic aspects of the narrative is Watanabe’s -the main character- love for Naoko. Now, Naoko isn’t just a 2 dimensional  character either. She has a full backstory and a genuine spectrum of very complex emotion. This is of course, something that many love interests lack in a ‘love story’. They were friends first and Murakami shows that well. So we really get the feel for Naoko, what Watanabe loves about her and why he cares for her so deeply throughout the story. Murakami’s style ensures that close connection and friendship comes across in a transparent fashion. It is also very easy to see the successes and pitfalls of their relationship because of their youth and honesty too. There’s a part when Watanabe says that he won’t have sex with anyone else because he doesn’t want to forget her touch and questioned whether or not she knew the importance of her touch to him. It’s simple style like that, that really draws you into Murakami’s story. Like an easily recognisable breakup song. 

   The blurb itself is something I find misleading actually. It says the story is about this man who hears a song, gets drawn back to his youth in Japan and how he ‘has to choose between his future and his past’ when he meets Midori. So really, my expectations were that we as readers would see snippets of his life in the present day as well as the past. In reality, the entire narrative bar a part of chapter one, is set back in the 60s. The setting is a great antidote to the American 1960s which are usually characterised by an innate sense of freedom, which was sort of happening in Japan in the story but not to the extent that it’s immortalised in film and stories of the American 1960s. We actually see a more honest and in a way Foucaultian, depiction of the 60s. Watanabe is restricted in social setting and can’t really live the free love party all the time lifestyle, he still goes to college and studies and everyday normal aspects of life that go in the background. So the trope of the 1960’s lifestyle is not met. I think as well, while the blurb is true about Midori, putting their relationship down to a ‘choice between his future and his past’ is an oversimplification. Which is fair, because it’s the blurb, don’t give the game away. But, what they have is bizzare and complex and presents itself as a great example of the difficulties people find in being honest in relationships of all sorts. I think where I was mislead is posing Midori as a relationship/sexual interest from the onset. I obviously thought that would go down as the cliched love interest does. 

  One thing that really struck me that may have been lost in translation was Watanabes sense of humour. He likes to tell stories about his roommate to other characters. The roommate is a clean freak who exercises and loves maps. – My autocorrect just changed that to naps, showing how odd it to love maps. (Not that there’s anything wrong with maps being your niche interest, whatever gets you going.) The roommate becomes the foot of many of Watanabe’s jokes and he always describes them as going down well. However, he never divulges on the content of these jokes and so the reader never gets in on the laugh at these interactions. It was just such a weird thing to read about people laughing and having a great time and the narrator not pulling the joke. It made me think of the narrator as a either being a big liar or seriously unfunny. It really gives you sense that he is a complete outsider and ensures the reader feels like one too. While I think that it could be a feat of style, I also thought this was a pitfall in content. I wanted the laugh, the punchline, the whole conversation. 

   I’d definitely recommend this book. The characters feel real. They’re complex and endearing. The storytelling is timeless and captivating. Though the main character is -like Harry Potter- never going to be your favorite person in the story, the story is still worth reading. There’s a reason there’s a lot of hype around Murakami and the book exposes it. 

It’s not a secret if you know.

I have a secret 

Fragile light within me.

I know it shines through my skin

When you are near to me.

When you speak to me

Even the most passing comment

I glow.

It scares me to think that you

Might see it too

That you know it is within me,

You are the one who turns it on,

Still.

Somehow, only your look 

Your words

Are like little fingers

Which find their way inside me

That turn the dial up.

Somehow, you have a secret map

To connect the wires

Or play my veins 

Into a sad melody.

I am your Spanish guitar.

Each time you leave me

The light goes out

And I am left in darkness.

My body aches to find the switch

Itself

Open the windows to my being

And let the light in.

I do not want your fingers

Or words or music

To know me and open me

I want to glow without you.

Slut

He slapped me across

The face once,

And then again, straight away.

Pulled me up by the scruff

Of me collar.

Squared up and got

Straight up in my face

Forehead to forehead.

‘You’re a dirty little slut’

He spat through his teeth

at me.

And then he kissed me

And I liked it.

And I wrote it down

Unashamed.

Men who write

He once said that

Men who write poetry aren’t manly.

He lived by an arbitrary ideal

Of tall men, strong men, silent men.

All the flowers and fauna and feelings

Are for girls.

Yet disappointment

At the unachievable

Plagued him.

As if the canon has not been defined by men.

By Shakespeare and Wordsworth,

Coleridge, Byron,

Blake, Shelly, and Keats.

By Joyce and Yeats,

And Kavanagh and Heaney.

And Whitman

And Eliot

And Pound.

Poetry is a woman’s game for sure

And his toxic masculinity

And fear of poetry

Has nothing to do

With his inability to verbalise

The disappointment he felt

Having never reached the ideals imposed

On his gender.

Don’t dance, don’t speak out, don’t feel small.

Society regulates us all.

Madeleine Minstrels

I’m havin’ a Madeleine moment

With this bag eh Minstrels.

Mad meditating over bygone days.

Havin a long stare off into fuck all.

Filled with thoughts of me holy communion.

I member

I took me massive little white gloves off

Me tiny little hands,

An I had an unchipped french manicure miracle all day.

Me ma did me nails the night before.

And I was delighted wi’ life

Sitting in the back of our navy Nissan

Goin’ around all dee aunties

Gettin’ told I was just

Bee-uuu-tee-ful.

I’m batting me eyelashins still.

And I knew it

I was massive.

This was the first time

I ripped a packet of Minstrels open,

And the paper glided

Like scissors on sexy chris’mas wrapping paper.

And sucked on one eh dem Minstrels

Until the heat of me mouth cracked their shell open.

Therewithin,

The soft, sweet, melted chocolate

Poured its insides out to me,

Like forbidden fruit or me first secret

On’ee I was allowed have dem.

This was me real holy communion.

Chocolate exposed itself to my tastebuds

And God,

I was alive for the first time.

This moment is deeply ingrained in my memory.

Like a Minstrels virgin!

Touched,

For the very first time.

High on life, and a

Rakeload of sugar.

I have seen the light

I thought to meself.

Holy God has blessed me

An’ now I know that

This is what the holy bread should taste like

Not that tasteless rubbish

That sticks to the top of your pallet

And you take ages trying to get it off wit your tongue

And give up and pull it off wit your finger instead

An your ma gives out to you

Tellin you

Holy God is watchin’ you!

Jesus was brown

So the body of Christ should be holy chocolate too!

Gimme the holy Minstrel!

Token, Smithfield, Dublin 7

There’s a pub in Smithfield called Token

Where you can go play on retro arcade games

Like street fighter, dance dance revolution, and tekken.

We went a long time ago, on a date.

You wouldn’t go on the dance machine like a loser,

And I kicked your arse

Because I am the fucking queen of tekken.

I found a little golden token from the machines

In the corner of my room the other day

When I was clearing out bits and bobs.

Absolutely useless to me,

Chances are, I’ll never go back.

I wonder how many others,

Have kept junk disguised as mementos.


But I put the token away in my safe spot.

I kept it, even though I’m not usually sentimental.

One day I might let you know I still have

This little token of my affection.

Or I’ll just go back

And play the game

Without you.

Inside story

I feel almost transparent

In the afterglow of us banging.

You’ve seen me naked,

No makeup, no clothes

No nothing.

Kissed the gap

Between my legs

With dedication.

Everyone is walking around

All ordinary

And my skin is

Screaming our secret at them.

I internally jitter

Do they know what we do

When they’re not around.

I am spilling hot tea everywhere.