What's Up in YA

“[E]mpathy is more powerful than sympathy”: An Interview with THE HATE U GIVE’s Angie Thomas

Get excited, YA readers. We made you wait a whole extra day for this newsletter because it’s an exciting one.

But first . . .

What’s Up in YA? is sponsored this week by A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom.

For Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to conceal her diagnosis by keeping everyone at arm’s length. But when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears that no one will accept her if they discover what she’s been hiding. But would her friends really abandon her if they learned the truth? More importantly, can Mel risk everything to find out?


Today, I’m thrilled to bring an interview with Angie Thomas, a debut YA writer whose book is going to do so much for YA readers.

The Hate U Give hits shelves this month, but it’s been earning tremendous, well-deserved buzz since the book deal was announced last year. It’s been optioned for the big screen, with rising star Amandla Stenberg attached to the project. The Hate U Give is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, but more than being inspired by today’s social justice movements, it’s a story about a girl coming of age in a world where being a girl — being a black girl — is in and of itself the story. It’s a moving read and one that will resonate tremendously with readers. I hesitate to use the word “important” to describe a novel, in part because it feels like it ascribes a certain value to some books over others, but this is a book that is important, is vital, and is going to do tremendous good for the YA world.

I wanted to reach out to Thomas and talk with her about her book, about the importance of engaging with dialog that can be uncomfortable, and to talk about her thoughts on black literature and inclusive YA books.


KJ: Give us the pitch for The Hate U Give and share a little bit about what inspired Starr’s story.

AT: The Hate U Give is about a sixteen-year-old girl, Starr, who navigates between the poor neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-class suburban prep school she attends. Her two worlds collide when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her childhood best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two different worlds she inhabits, she also has to find a way to speak her truth and, in the process, try to stay alive herself.

I first wrote The Hate U Give as a short story when I was a senior in college. It was 2010/2011 after the death of Oscar Grant, a young black man in Oakland, California who was killed by police. Although the college I attended was only minutes away from my school, they were two very different 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 – at school he deserved it, and at home he was one of us. My own anger, frustration, fear, and sadness led me to write the story that would become The Hate U Give.

Who do you envision as your dream reader, as in the person you spy reading it on the subway or in an airport and your heart goes wild knowing it’s in their hands? (Imagine if you psychically knew everything about that person, since some things would be impossible to know through simple observation).

The young black girl who finds herself in two different worlds where she has to be two different people, and she’s still not sure which one is her just yet. The one who has learned to code switch just so people won’t consider her a stereotype; the one who hears microaggressions daily and sometimes she doesn’t say anything but internally she’s screaming. That’s my ideal reader.

If you had to describe yourself as a mixture of any fictional characters — in books or other media — who would it be? And who would it have been when you yourself were a teenager?

I would say that I’m a mix of Hermione from Harry Potter and Monica from Love and Basketball. That applies to when I was younger too.

What were some of your favorite books as a teenager, whether they were “for teenagers” or not?

One of my favorite books as a teen was Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. I’m from Mississippi, and although I grew up in an entirely different era than Ms. Moody, I connected with her story in so many ways.

Who are some of the authors of color in YA who are knocking it out of the park and we should know?

Nic Stone

Tiffany D. Jackson

Dhonielle Clayton

Imani Josey

Coe Booth

Justina Ireland

LL McKinney (debut out in 2018)

If you had to name 5 essential YA titles by black authors for all readers to read and know, what would they be?  

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

X: A Novel by Ilyash Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

And on that note, this is your debut year — it’s your first novel, period. Can you recommend three other debut novels out this year that you’re madly championing and want others to read?

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams-Jackson

City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

The Heartbeat of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon


Black History Month is when we begin seeing an even greater emphasis on the works by and about black people being promoted on a grand scale — there are displays in bookstores and libraries, promotions from publishers, and more. As important as it is to see these pushes, it so often becomes limited to just one month. In what ways can readers, as well as advocates for readers (teachers, librarians, writers, and others) keep the spirit of promoting and highlighting works by and about black people alive all year long?

Keep seeking out books by black authors, keep reading books by black authors, keep promoting books by black authors. Make a conscious effort to find those books—don’t just search for them in February.


One of the biggest takeaways from The Hate U Give is that when you see something, when you’re feeling the need to speak up and act, that you should do what’s right. If you could share one piece of advice with teens who are reading this newsletter and/or your book, what would it be?

Always remember that empathy is more powerful than sympathy. It is one of our greatest weapons. When we understand why someone feels a certain way and we share those feelings, we’re more likely to speak up and act. In our current political climate, many of us are afraid and sometimes that makes speaking up even more intimidating. But please know that you are not alone—many of us in the YA community are fighting for you and with you.


Thank you, Angie, for taking the time to talk about your book, as well as a pile of other titles YA readers should get their hands on.

If it’s not already, make sure The Hate U Give is on your radar. It hits shelves on the 28th.

Hopefully your to-read just exploded again. So! Many! Great! Books!

We’ll see you again next week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *