Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist – The Hate U Give

hate u give

Short List Title:  THE HATE U GIVE
(Titles on our short list will be included in the live Mock Newbery in Oakland.)

We started our posts on the Heavy Medal Short List and Long List titles on Wednesday; now we’ve decided to tweak the process a little bit.  Instead of discussing two books per post, we’re going to post on one title at a time, five times a week in the next three weeks.  It’s interesting and useful to compare two books side by side, but we’ll steer away from that for this phase.  As Roxanne pointed out earlier this week, during committee deliberations there is limited time to discuss each book, so you have to really focus on the title in front of you.  Comparing that title to other books from the year can be very illuminating, but rarely does a discussion center on comparing two particular books.  

We realized that combining two books in one post might sway readers into linking those two together while deliberating.  Instead, we hope participants will concentrate on the single featured book and consider whether it’s distinguished among the 18 books, making direct comparisons to any eligible titles where it helps to illuminate or support observations and opinions.  That already happened with our first post; several books besides CLAYTON BYRD and FIRST RULE were mentioned already.  But we hope separating the posts will make it a little clearer.  Here’s the next one up: 

I got pretty caught up in the story the first time I read THE HATE U GIVE; the second time through I was able to pay more attention to more particular elements of the writing. I especially appreciated how plots and themes work together. Khalil’s death is the central plot element, but it also triggers explorations into many other parts of Starr’s world, from her school friends and her “Williamson rules” to a gradually deepening understanding of her family and her neighborhood.  Thomas does an excellent job of bringing these to the surface in ways that should resonate strongly with young readers, including 12-14 year olds.

She also does a masterful job with characterizations.  Amid all the thought-provoking issues and dramatic events, Starr is a complex, fully realized character, and most of her family and friends are distinct and believable. A lot comes through in smaller moments and conversations.  Like when little brother Sekani sweetly gives her an apology card, but still depicts her with devil horns so it would be “real” (281). Or the exchange where Kenya challenges Starr’s loyalty and Starr admits to herself (but not to Kenya) that the accusation may have merit (198).

The language and some of the content certainly raise the question of children as an “intended audience,” even with the 0-14 range.  But I think a case can be made that the most distinguished elements of this book, especially in terms of characterization, plot, and themes, will resonate as strongly with middle school ages as they will with high school age readers.  THUG is certainly one of the most popular and talked about books of the year…does it have a shot at the Newbery?


Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at


  1. Leonard Kim says:

    I agree with Steven’s praise of Starr’s characterization. Her first person present voice was, to me, the most compelling part of the book. I also agree that the plot and themes are compelling, but I actually have reservations about how they “work together” as applied to this book’s (and also REFUGEE’S) “interpretation of theme” and “appropriateness of style.” Given how important their themes are in the current national conversation, I am troubled about interpreting them in made-for-TV, everything-happens-to-one-person, dramatic fashion that seems intent on stirring you at some expense to thoughtfulness. I am thinking of scenes like Starr throwing back the tear gas canister on camera, the community facing down King, Starr becoming media-famous at least three times (going viral on Instagram, the interview, the riot/tear gas scene) leading to her future education being provided for, the revelation of Khalil’s utter, just-helping-mom blamelessness. Many of the characters and scenarios start out in promisingly nuanced ways that then simplify to easy conclusions: the uneasy friendship with Hailey is interesting, but then she turns out so loathsome one wonders how Maya and Starr could ever have been friends with her, the complexity of Starr’s relationship with Chris becomes undermined as he turns out to be The Perfect Boyfriend accepted by everyone, any horrified sympathy we might have felt for One-Fifteen (initially observed by Starr as shaken and panicked by what he’d done, Khalil’s killer is not Emmett Till’s, but this book turns out to be no 57 BUS) completely vanishes by the time we get to his dad’s odious defense of him, and we cheer when Uncle Carlos punches him out. Good entertainment, yes. Not sold on most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature.

    Regarding audience, I do have some reservations about “quality presentation for children.” Just the third sentence of the book is “That’s not on some bougie shit, either.” Profanity aside, the word “bougie” without explanation is a challenge, even for this adult reader (I’m not sure what it means – Google suggests it may be short for “bourgeois”- it’s like reading A Clockwork Orange!) The setting of this opening chapter, a party serving what Starr says should just be called “straight-up liquor” where guys “grind so close to girls they just about need condoms” is also challenging. While I agree with Steven that the largest themes “will resonate as strongly with middle school ages,” such language and settings and situations are not strictly thematic, and I would suggest the first person present makes this less a “window” book for children onto the world of older teens they will eventually enter, but more a “mirror” book. We are in 16-year-old Starr’s head and, to have best impact, the ideal reader should be able to directly relate to her and her experiences and feelings.

    • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

      I really appreciate many of your comments, and can see what you mean about the made-for-tv style. I’ll definitely think more about that and if I have any counter arguements to it.

      I do, however, disagree with your concern over “That’s not on some bougie shit, either” as an example of something that young people won’t understand because you don’t understand it. This is extremely common slang in the community I work in amongst young people, and if you do a quick search of urban dictionary you can see what it’s all about.

      When we talk about “quality presentation for children” we have to be careful that we aren’t excluding entire communities of children just because they are unfamiliar to us. I think this is a part of why “diverse books” traditionally have had a harder time getting recognition, being considered age appropriate, winning awards and accolade, and thus getting published.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        If I had to do it again, I would re-write that part of my comment if it came across so simplistically as I-don’t-know-this-so-no-child-would. The Manual admonishes us to consider exactly what children will respond to a book and why. For a book like THE HATE U GIVE, you may have potential “window” readers (myself included) and potential “mirror” readers. As a “window” reader, my reservation about Thomas’ opening with the party–in what eventually turns out to be actually a rather wholesome book–is that it makes me doubt its authenticity (which affects presentation, setting, as well as touching the other Criteria). It’s another facet of the made-for-TV approach. In a previous post, Roxanne shared her colleague’s opinion that, “this book feels like an outsider’s view who is sensationalizing inner city (crime-filled) experiences.” I think I am just expressing a similar sentiment. If a book makes a point of opening with and emphasizing teenage drinking, sex, slang, and gun violence, then though I can imagine some readers responding, “this is real!,” it’s actually a common enough device (by no means unique to THUG) for other readers to react, “no, it’s not” (while still recognizing the behavior — it’s the difference between, for example, recognizing drug use happens at my son’s high school, and having it be in the media, but in no way authentically defines or represents the school and its students.)

        For “mirror” readers I repeat my suggestion that the first person present makes this a tenuous candidate. There isn’t no difference between junior high and high school, and I feel the book would be very different if Starr were 14. How many under-14s do we expect at Big D’s party? Or to have the relationship Starr has with Chris? Or have that evolution of relationship with Khalil? (Heck, a 14-year-old can’t drive!) I think the assertion that children seek out slightly older characters applies more to “window” readers. (I am happy to be wrong about this.) The ideal “mirror” reader needs feel “that’s me,” and I haven’t been convinced this book provides that to the Newbery range.

    • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

      (and now I see that this was also discussed below, so sorry to be repetitive. I just get concerned when I see urban slang dismissed!)

    • I agree with Leonard about the lack of nuance. I think it is very much an issue book and that it tends to be didactic about it rather than exploring the issue(s) in an organic, story-based way. I didn’t feel like I got any new insights, intellectually or emotionally, beyond what I get from watching the news. I think the parts that are character-based are much stronger. The characters are multidimensional when they’re being people, but then they also have to serve as stock pieces in the argument she’s trying to make. So Uncle Carlos is complex and interesting as a person, but then all of a sudden he has to be The Cop. (Sidenote: How is it that Starr doesn’t know any of his cop buddies? They would have been over to his house for BBQs and I would think she would have visited him at work when she was little. And Uncle Carlos never came up in her thoughts about cops until the end, which also didn’t make much sense.) For example, the Dad being a Black Panther fan is interesting when it’s part of his character and sometimes it works into the story naturally, such as when Starr is freaking out about testifying and he calms her down by making her recite the points of the plan. But other times it is shoehorned in there, like when he and Starr are driving and talking about what THUG means. That whole scene is not a scene, it is a lecture. I was going to say it’s a Socratic dialogue, but it’s more like those teachers who ask you questions only to get you to say the answer they want.

      • Oh, also, I think there are other books this year that do a better job with some of these issues. Long Way Down (besides fitting a junior high audience much better) also deals with a teen losing a brother-like teen to gun violence. And with losing a friend to gun violence in elementary school. I thought Long Way Down was much better written and also did a much better job exploring grief and giving me insight into that experience. The image of the kids playing with the police tape in the streets after murders sticks with me as a haunting image of the tragic normalcy of the violence. I didn’t connect with anything in THUG in that way. And I thought Patina did at least as good a job of portraying the experiences of a black girl at a fancy white school, with much better writing. (Plus actually for junior highers.) (Hah, I forgot Jason Reynolds wrote both of those–apparently I’m just saying I prefer Jason Reynolds!)

  2. I very rarely go on Twitter, but I was drawn to the heaviness of one of Thomas’ tweets recently regarding the language present in THUG. Her tweet was a response to THUG being banned in Texas due to language, and the gist of her response was a cataloging of the number of times certain “objectionable” words were used versus the number of times black individuals are killed by police officers. It was a powerful, thought-provoking tweet.

    I had a meeting this morning with a local high school principal and the district’s curriculum coordinator. Both firmly believed the book should be in a high school library, but felt it was written specifically for 11th and 12th graders. Before the winter recess, I had a meeting with a coordinator for a high school program in a different district. She said she wanted to use the book with 8th graders. I bring up both these instances to frame a conversation that we continue to have: “readership” is often, if not always, a very, very personal reflex (for adults, anyway). I personally would not have purchased THUG for the middle school library – but that decision wouldn’t have just based on my personal beliefs of “readership”. Obviously so much more goes into purchasing decisions for a school library.

    As I’ve written previously on this blog, I liked THUG, but I didn’t love it. I think the theme is thoughtfully addressed, I think there is nuance in the addressing of code-switching, and I think that Starr is a fully realized, likable character. The dialogue was reflective of how teens talk – it sounded authentic and snappy. Furthermore, the delineation of setting was phenomenal. Where others didn’t respond to the the unnamed city, I liked it. It could be Detroit, Jackson, Las Vegas, Minneapolis – it doesn’t matter. What happens in this book can happen anywhere, and that’s the point Thomas makes.

    To me, where THUG fails, is that the book feels frontloaded. There’s a lot of build-up to a denouement where sequences like the courtroom drama are completely glossed over. It felt like a bit of a letdown to me. This is not to say that it’s all-for-nothing, merely that I sought as much in the climax->falling action->resolution that I got in the exposition->rising action.

    To be sure: Thomas is an author to watch. I think this will nab the Morris. I don’t know about the Newbery.

  3. Steven Engelfried says:

    Kids/teens know “boujie” I’m pretty sure, at least if they’re at all into hip-hop. “Bad and Boujee” by Migos was a #1 song last year, so the term has been out there. She’s not inventing language, like in “A Clockwork Orange,” but using language that many of her intended readers will recognize and identify with. But also not using it so much that most readers who don’t recognize a given word or two will be lost (that’s what I thought, at least…)

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Thanks for the explanation. I am going to break the refrain-from-personal-anecdotes rule to say none of my three kids (15, 12, 8) knew the word, but admittedly they don’t listen to hip-hop. Amusingly my oldest griped that expecting him to know the word was “just another example of grown-ups not understanding teens.”

      • “Amusingly my oldest griped that expecting him to know the word was “just another example of grown-ups not understanding teens.””

        Personal Anecdote: I just fell over laughing.

      • If we are playing the “we checked with our kids” game here — my 18-year-old daughter actually used this term in casual conversation, unrelated to reading this book. 🙂

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Happy to concede the Kim clan is in the minority here. And I wasn’t seriously proposing Thomas was doing A Clockwork Orange. Actually I was completely wrongheaded about that. I was contemplating “bougie” (= bourgeois) and my mind leaped to “prole” (=proletarian) BUT that’s a 1984 word, not A Clockwork Orange. I got my dystopian wires crossed. Sorry!

  4. I believe this was discussed earlier in the thread about this title and I offered my two cents in that thread as well but since this is the most recent thread focused on this title, I’m going to offer it here too.

    I don’t think this book even meets the definitions of a book that is eligible for the Newbery Medal. Before the Newbery manual even covers “criteria” for the award, it lays out its “terms” and “definitions.” One of the terms is that for a book to even be discussed, it must be eligible. And to be eligible, it must meet the definitions of language in the terms. For instance:

    — A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered. —

    I don’t think this book meets that definition. I don’t believe the author has displayed respect for “children’s” (ages up to and including fourteen) understandings. Starr, the protagonist, is 16 years old. Her classmates and many of the other characters she encounters are also her age, if not older. The conversations they have do not display a respect for a child’s (age 0-14) appreciations. Case in point, the casual use of the “f-word” in conversations and plot points surrounding sex and violence. Since Starr is 16, these issues are explored through her lens, without a respect for a reader who is within the Newbery range.

    Even if you were to convince me that it meets the defintions of a book eligible to discuss, you would have to admit that it is squarely a book for a very specific age range and therefore, according to the expanded definitions in the manual, would need to do “what it sets out to do as well as or better than other, younger books that are also eligible.” That comes right from the manual. I agree with others, that Starr’s characterization and voice is a big strength of this book, but can you argue that Starr’s characterization is more distinguished than Malu’s characterization in THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK? How do you even go about doing that?

    • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

      I disagree very strongly about this. I absolutely think it meets the criteria. I think that 13 and 14 year olds are an intended audience and that the book has displayed respect for their understanding. I think that the country and our communities are full of children for whom this book will resonate and who will relate to Starr’s inner thoughts and conversations and her conflict. These same children are also likely not strangers to the word fuck nor to the sex and violence in the world around them. Are they not children too? Do they not count in the definition of children?

      Children tend to read up. While 16-year-olds do not often read books with 14-year-old protagonists, 14-year-olds are thrilled to read books with 16-year-old protagonists.

      I think there is a good arguement that it is not the MOST distinguished book for children and that it doesn’t necessarily do “what it sets out to do as well as or better than other, younger books that are eligible.” Although I do think one could do a side by side of Malu and Starr and other characters as a way to help determine that.

      But I absolutely 100% find the book eligible.

      • Sending a *virtual nod* to Sharon’s argument for THUG as being written with respect for 13/14-year-old readers’ sensibilities in mind. And moving on to explore the question raised by Mr. H., “can you argue that Starr’s characterization is more distinguished than Malu’s characterization in THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK? How do you even go about doing that?” Yes, HOW? And that would be what the Newbery Committee members attempt to grapple with the entire time. I’ll post my response/example in a separate comment.

      • I think the conversation about whether a book is age appropriate, is a conversation around definitions of language laid out in the terms, thus, an eligibility question. The terms state: “The committee in its deliberations is to consider only the books eligible for the award, as specified in the terms.” A work of children’s literature is mentioned in the terms and defined immediately after, before the criteria for the merits of the book are even laid out. If we’re talking about the distinguished qualities of a book’s characterization and setting and plot (laid out in the “criteria”) and still discussing whether or not those elements are appropriate for children (laid out in the “definitions”), then we haven’t followed the terms. We are deliberating about a title that might not even be eligible based on language in the definitions. If we are deliberating about the distinguished qualities of the criteria, then it should already be assumed that we have decided this book is age appropriate. Some people seem to think that’s clear cut. I don’t at all. (Steven, I think your hypothetical down this thread, about THE WAR I FINALLY WON and THE HATE U GIVE is kind of an example of what I’m talking about.)

        I do think kids read up, but I don’t think that has any bearing on the conversation we are supposed to be having. If that were the case, where do they stop reading up? Do they just read up a year, or two, or into adult books? If we are just going to assume that kids read up, that really makes anything eligible. Why even include an age limit in the definitions? To assume that kids read up and use that as an argument for age appropriateness, adds a buffer year or two to the age range mentioned in the definitions. We’re adding gray area where there isn’t necessarily supposed to be gray area.

        How does an author “display respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations?” I think subject matter and language used are two things we can look at to determine that. I don’t know what else you would use. Sure, some 13 and 14 year olds curse and talk about sex and use current slang like “bougie” but I guess I don’t find this as a good argument. A lot of 16 year olds drink alcohol but I don’t think that means we should change the legal drinking age. Should a typical 14 year old really be able to “understand” or “appreciate” all that? If your answer is that “some” 14 year olds “can” then I ask, is the subject matter and use of that language so “distinguished” that “all” 14 year olds should read this? I think Leonard’s comment that this book would be written in a completely different way had Starr been 14 years old, is very apt. Might even be my nail in the coffin.

        Is this a good book? Yes. Is this an important book? Yes. Do I hope a lot of kids read it? Yes. But because of the subject matter and language used, I do not believe this book should be eligible for the Newbery Medal. I do not believe the author displays a respect for a child’s understanding by writing about subject matter and using language that the Newbery age range cannot fully understand or appreciate. That’s my final answer.

    • Roxanne’s answer to “how to go about comparing characterization” —

      I would cite specific passages the authors’ use to portray their characters. Is there a lot of “showing” or just a lot of “telling”? Do the characters think or even speak differently as the story progresses, gaining more insights or understanding of themselves and others? Does that matter? Do I sense that the character could be right there and have a conversation with me? Again, does that matter? Is characterization the most noticeable strength or weakness in a given title?

      For example, Starr’s narration is naturalistic and in keeping with her age/situation/experiences. Early on in the book, she says, “The paramedics can’t do shit for Khalil, so they put me in the back of the ambulance like I need help,” and throws up and worries about Khalil’s dead body and how he might “feel.” Starr’s emotions are raw — she never stops to examine or explain herself — she just thinks and acts and feels. After the grand jury’s decision of not indicting the police officer, this is how she feels when Seven asks what she wants to do: “Anything. Everything. Scream. Cry. Puke. Hit somebody. Burn something. Throw something.” So, I’d say that Angie Thomas succeeds in presenting a 16-year-old girl who has gone through multiple traumas in her young life and still tries to hold herself together: still going to school, cooperating with the Civil Rights activists, and continuing her relationship with Chris.

      I would probably argue that Perez, on the other hand, inserts quite a bit of writerly voice into her young protagonist. The book opens with descriptions of her favorite music (Punk, of course) – “bass string thumped, cymbals hissed, and guitar strings squealed like they were having a conversation with each other.” Granted, this is past tense narration so it could be an older Malu looking back at her life and organizing it in her thoughts in an orderly fashion. But right away, the “rule of three” writing technique and the attempt at describing Punk music as the instruments having a conversation makes the characterization of Malu less immediately jumping off of the page — even if it is from a first-person viewpoint of a character with a lot of emotions.

      This would be how go about comparing characterization between different books — especially if I consider certain titles as character driven. Since there won’t be that much time for all books to be compared this way, those that really stand out and those that really have flaws will definitely receive more attention/time.

  5. I’m going to add to the strengths I found within THE HATE YOU GIVE and save my only big dissenting issue for the end.

    The setting is vibrant. Starr’s neighborhood showed a community that could be challenging and yet united and close-nit. A neighborhood that is often shown, in the greater media, with a one-dimensional lens; a place to be avoided and pitied. Maverick’s passion for making a difference reinforced the idea that the people who lived there had strengths that should be built on; not merely a community to be feared. I also liked that the actual setting was not concrete. Sometimes the definitive city can become a character in a narrative. This is often a strength. I don’t see the need for that here, leaving it nebulous opens the door for more readers to see their own stories. It also gives the author more freedom in construction. (I remember in the past a few books being slammed for getting street names or directions wrong.)

    Roxanne wanted me to clarify why I found Starr’s parents ready to ‘walk off the page’ and exist in their own stories. I wouldn’t limit it to merely her parents, I found almost every character existing outside of Starr’s experiences, but never overshadowing her story: from Mister Lewis, to Miss Ofrah, DeVante, Uncle Carlos, Kenya, and Iesha. As far as the parents, Lisa determination to get her family out of the neighborhood, as well as her relationship with her own mother lent a dimension that many book mothers lack. Also, the, at times, strained and then affectionate dialogues with Maverick that Starr witnesses shows her as a woman in love with a man she doesn’t always agree with. The depth shown in Maverick, (along with Lady Thornton), are among the most realized characters of the year. The scene where Maverick is laid-low by the police, in front of his kids, showed not only how the scene disturbed Starr, but was masterful in the way Thomas showed Maverick trying the be an authority figure to his children among the humiliation he was suffering. Thomas is an expert at showing a situation over telling us what to think.

    I will also echo those who have said the voice is excellent. Any author who tackles a period piece needs to allow in enough of the authentic vernacular, without putting so much in it alienates outside readers. She did an excellent job. Just because I don’t hear ‘bougie’ in my everyday conversation doesn’t mean it isn’t contextualized enough to stumble to a stop. I found the pacing excellent, perhaps a little heavy-handed, but it kept the pages turning.

    And now,

    this is a difficult for me. There is no question it is my number-one favorite book of the past year. I’m also in Jordan’s camp on the age issue. Sharon made compelling arguments to counter that this book is within the 0-14 age range. It is not lost on me that Starr’s parents had the ‘talk’ with her at age twelve. The talk about how to present yourself around police. A ‘talk’ most of the parents of the students in my school do not feel the need to give. I understand they are living with a privilege that, perhaps, the young readers Sharon serves do not live with. I’m not sure with how much bias I’m approaching the idea that this book outside the Newbery age range. It felt unquestionably an upper YA title, based on accepted norms. It is also a book that many fourteen, thirteen and ten-year-olds would apricate. Not giving it the Newbery would not exclude them from reading it. It is not going anywhere. I serve an K-6 elementary school in a blood-red state. I often push the upper-age limit in selection for our conservative patrons, but there is no part of our policy that would allow me to put THUG on our shelves. I realize my students do not encompass the entire age range, but I would be sad to have a Newbery winner that would exclude my students. (I’m aware this is a personal feeling, built on the bias I live with.)

    • DaNae said that “It felt unquestionably an upper YA title, based on accepted norms. It is also a book that many fourteen, thirteen and ten-year-olds would appreciate. Not giving it the Newbery would not exclude them from reading it.” Hmm…. I don’t think the Newbery Committee members could ever consider whether a book would be read or not be read by being given or not given the Golden Seal.

      I believe that this is not meant as an “upper YA” — because aside from the curse words and the police brutality (which is all over the media and the internet,) there is little content in the book that I would categorize as “R” and not simply “PG-13.”

      I am in constant contact with young readers from 4th to 8th grade (9 to 14) and the huge leap/gap between students in grade 6th and grades 7th/8th, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, is remarkable. I would say that this is a book squarely landing in “lower YA” perhaps for 13 – 15 years old. Most (but not all) of my 7th/8th grade students (liberal, privileged, and sheltered) will have no problem comprehending and appreciating THUG.

      Once again, this is why we have a community of readers from different parts of the country and working with different audiences (from professionals, grad school students, to the general public and elementary school students) to puzzle over the “worthiness” of each title.

      That said, I am still quite not sure that I’ll fully support THUG as a Newbery winner — because I do find some of the scenarios “piled on” (the drug lord war, the burning of the store, the young man on the run, etc.) and take away the potential focus of Starr and Khalil’s central story.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Thanks DaNae for such a forthright exploration of your thoughts on THUG and its Newbery possibilities. I think it really highlights the hurdles that a book like this will have to clear to win a medal. The note at the bottom of the Terms and Criteria states that “the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children.” I’m picturing 15 people around that table with THE WAR I FINALLY WON and THE HATE U GIVE in front of them. With the first book, “literary quality” and “presentation for children” are extremely compatible. When you talk about one, you’re pretty much talking about both. With THUG, it’s so tempting to look at “literary quality” as one thing and “presentation for children” as another thing you have to work out separately. If those two books were tied for 3rd in a member’s mind, would a member opt for the one that’s undeniably for children? If a member had THUG at 3 and TWIFW at a very close 4….would she nudge TWIFW ahead because of its age range? And that “nudge” could easily not even be a conscious one. When I reflect on my own committee votes and try to detect where my own biases might have influenced me beyond the pure realm of literary quality, I find it extremely hard to figure out….

      • So true, Steven, So true. And there are also the elements of what I have just heard from my fellow committee members – if they have pointed out something that I hadn’t considered, either toward the positive or the negative, just right before the voting (or in between two balloting sessions,) then, my mind could have changed enough to vote for one and not the other.

      • I can see that age range is a big discussion, one with no definitive answer. I will comment that I have never felt more on the interior of the county than in this discussion. I’ve gotten many, many people to read this book, all of them have been grateful for the recommendation, not one of them feels it is within the Newbery range.

        Steven, I appreciate your committee member scenario, but in my mind all fifteen members will have THE WAR I FINALLY WON in their first place spot :).

  6. I agree with Leonard and Joe that while THUG certainly has a lot of strengths, it does not rise to the level of most distinguished.

    The sentence-level writing strikes me as only slightly above average (which I suppose is a matter of taste). Here are some examples of lines from the book that could sing, but instead clunk (in my opinion):

    “If bravery is a medical condition, everybody’s misdiagnosed me.”

    “Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.”

    “I can’t change where I come from or what I’ve been through, so why should I be ashamed of what makes me, me?”

    “At an early age I learned that people make mistakes, and you have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them.”

    Personally, I want the Newbery to recognize writing that leaves the reader awe-struck in its originality, its beauty, its excellence. But these sentences from THUG… I don’t want to be harsh, but I’d call them stylistically banal. (And I did not cherry pick bad sentences. These are some of the most liked quotes from the book on goodreads.)

    Beyond a lack of distinguished style, I agree with what Leonard said about characters getting less complex as the books goes along (especially the main white characters, Halilie, Chris and 115). And I agree with Joe that the beginning of the book is much stronger than the ending.

    • Destinee — as I said, I found the later part of the book with all the complications from the “criminal” sector of the neighborhood dilute the power of the book. So I agree with you there. However, if the “sentence level” writing is sparkling or poetic or beautiful — I would seriously consider it a disservice to Starr’s characterization. I think the “banal” style is just right for the chosen perspective. It also allows for immediacy and resonance.

      As to what a Newbery award title should be — should sentence-level beauty/excellence receives the highest priority in our evaluation?

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Well, excellence absolutely yes should be given priority, it is twice used in the definition of “distinguished.” Whether excellence at the sentence level should be given highest priority may be debatable, depending on how one feels about building blocks supporting everything else, but I think it has to be considered.

        If we allow ugly and terrible types of beauty (basically defining “beautiful” as expressive, striking, and communicative) then yes I think it’s also a priority, though I agree if one defines “beauty” more narrowly as “pretty” then I agree that isn’t required.

        I agree with Destinee about her selected quotes. Even though I like Starr’s voice, it’s not for “liked” quotes such as these which seem to me not authentic but aphoristic, again made-for-TV big lines.

        Roxanne, yeah probably the upcoming movie will be PG-13 right? I don’t think that closes its eligibility case though. PG-13 rating means may not be suitable for 12 and under. R means may not be suitable for 16 and under. Those are the only two choices in this age range. So one can’t say a PG-13 movie is definitely suitable for 13 and 14-year-olds. It could be it is not suitable for them but OK for 15 and 16-year-olds, and thus avoids the R rating. Interestingly TV ratings tack on another year to this fuzzy line (TV-14) but I think both as well as the Newbery limit are trying to get at similar things, so I think arguing something is comfortably PG-13 still puts it in kind of a gray area.

      • Leonard, good point re PG-13. This probably should not have been used to determine a book’s intended age-range. However, I do believe that that general readership of THUG is not “upper YA” (which is 15 and older?) but lower-YA which, in my mind, is 13 and up so it definitely still lands quite comfortably in the 0-14 range. Perhaps we can look at this from a different angle — would you agree that a beginning / emergent reader book, such as something like Frog & Toad should be considered as eligible for the Newbery? If so, its intended readership is also quite a narrow band — perhaps 5-7 years old (k-2?) Even though children in 3rd to 8th grade will be able to read it without any problem, the intended readership isn’t more than those very early independent readers. Yeah?

      • Sorry Roxanne, but I disagree with this. I have watched many R-rated movies that were rated R simply because of language that was used.

        There is a film adaptation coming for THE HATE U GIVE, and I would be willing to bet that the studio will be pushing to keep it rated PG-13, to be able to draw in the most “teens” who will be their primary audience. To keep it in that PG-13 range, I guarantee, the studio will be cleaning up the language used. If they were to do a page by page, scene for scene adaptation, with the on page murders and blood and swearing, not changing any language at all, I’m not so confident that they would get a PG-13 rating.

        I guess we’ll know in a year or so when the movie comes out!

      • Also, Leonard was the one you addressed regarding Frog and Toad, but I’m going to give my two cents because I think that’s an easy answer.

        Frog and Toad clearly fits inside the age range of the Newbery. You are right that its intended audience is a fairly small portion of that age range, but it undoubtedly fits within it.

        The same certainty cannot be provided to THE HATE U GIVE. Frog and Toad could actually be aimed at a larger portion of that age range then we’re giving credit to too. Ages 5-8 could appreciate its distinguished qualities. THE HATE U GIVE, if we were to deem it age appropriate (which I’m not), would be a much, much, much smaller portion of that age range.

      • I don’t know that I necessarily agree with the approach of a movie’s rating.

        When I read The Hunger Games back in 2008, the violence was so jarring, I thought, “Oh, this can’t possibly be made into a movie.” With the gore, Hunger Games could *easily* have been a hard-R. But the movie, in my opinion, was a sanitized version of the book.

        If the language was kept, THUG would most definitely be rated R. I think the MPAA rule is one or two f-bombs allowed. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, but I’m fairly certain that the language rule was covered in it.

        At any rate – moot point. Hollywood will do what Hollywood will do to make the book fit into the parameters of a desired rating. And for THUG, my guess is Hollywood would want a PG-13.

      • I agree that the writing is clunky and I strongly disagree with Roxanne that if the writing was better that would hurt Starr’s voice. She’s actually at her best when she is the most in Starr’s voice. And I don’t see how a book could be literarily distinguished without good sentence-level writing. It’s not sufficient, but I think it’s certainly necessary. Of course, that doesn’t mean it has to be flowery. But no matter whose POV you’re writing from, it has to have clarity and flow. (Also, fiction is supposed to be enhanced reality, not actual reality. If authenticity was our main concern, we’d stop reading fiction and go read real teenagers’ diaries instead!)

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Destinee, those quotations you cite are helpful. I like so much about this writing, but it’s when she veers towards statements that are bigger, grander, maybe verging on triteness, that the connection between reader and Starr gets a bit more generic. I would say the same about plot elements. Leonard cited specific scenes (such as the tear gas throwing) that lead to “easy conclusions” and that’s well put. Maybe gratifying to the reader rooting for Starr…just as the lines about the meaning of bravery and “what makes me, me” might be, but overall they make the people and actions less distinctive.

      At the same time, I think there’s enough excellent writing, moments that are completely successful in terms of plot development and themes. Here’s one example of where she really gets it right, from pages 178-179:

      Starr is working with DeVante in the store and she’s still has problems with him. They talk about the night of the party and DeVante describes the shooting. This leads Starr to soften. She identifies their common ground. Pairs DeVante in her mind with Khalil. And decides he’s okay. But it’s done through dialogue paired with first-person narration and reflection, without big speeches or overt self-analysis. Here’s the passage:

      [DeVante] swallows. “I could’ve helped Dalvin. By the time I got to him, he was on the floor, bleeding. All I could do was hold him.”

      I see myself sitting in a pool of blood too. “And try to tell him it would be okay, even though you knew -”

      “There was no chance in hell it would be.”

      We go quiet.
      I get one of those weird deja-vu moments though. I see myself sitting cross-legged like I am now, but I’m showing Khalil how to do the price stickers.

      We couldn’t help Khalil with his situation before he died. Maybe we can help DeVante.

      I hand him a bag of Hot Fries. “I’m only gonna explain how to use this price gun one time, and you better pay attention.”

      He grins. My attention’s all yours, li’l momma.”

      This isn’t the biggest moment of the story by any means, but it comes through with a quiet power.
      I especially appreciate the way Starr starts that sentence, then DeVante completes it, followed by that terse three-word line: “We go quiet.” Distinguished writing, in my opinion. There are lots of these moments sprinkled throughout the book, where we get a little deeper into the characters as individuals and in the ways they relate to one another. The only other book I’ve seen that might match this level of characterization is THE WAR I FINALLY WON.

      • Thank you, Steven, for doing the heavy lifting and providing details of the immersive character development Thomas pulls off within her dialogue. I couldn’t agree more that TWIFW equals THUG in its ability to ‘show’ us character, rather than the character telling us all about herself. Also, to continue with side-by-sides of the two books, on the issue of having too many plot elements in THUG, that never really tripped me up, but up against TWIFW, it may falter. On my second read of TWIFW I was struck by how many things kept happening, with it never feeling like the author was shoving in unearned baggage. Ada’s story unfolded legitimately.

  7. I love this book, and I love how popular it is with teens, and I think it’s a really strong debut. I agree with many of the comments praising the characterization and much of the sentence-level writing. But I don’t think it’s one of the top choices of the year for the Newbery Award. From some of the comments here, it feels as if there’s an attempt to shoehorn this title into being strongly considered and to focus on at the table. Meanwhile, there are so many other titles that aren’t being discussed, including nonfiction, picture books, readers, and middle grade. It’s a bit puzzling to me.
    I’m also a bit unsure about the claim that THUG’s main, target readers are ages 13-15. If that’s the case, are 16 to 18-year-olds reading only adult books? If older teens aren’t reading this book, what YA are they reading? I feel this is truly a high school, older teen title, based on the content, the language, the setting and the characters.

    • Todd, from my experience as a bookseller in a general indie bookstore, I have found that most kids at 16 or 17, high school juniors and up, tend to move into the adult section and spend half or more of their reading dollars there. We arrange the shop with this in mind moving sci-fi and fantasy immediately next to the teen section and well away from MG readers. That section flows into adult fiction, mystery, and poetry. Teens read pretty avidly into all 4 of those adult sections. They also read quite a bit of non-fiction–some driven by popular culture such as the Hamilton book and many by personal interest such as political titles and things like trail guides and knitting books.
      Many adults move into the teen section. For example April Henry wrote adult mysteries before her teen mysteries and her adult fans are happy to read her younger characters. Historical fiction in YA also tends to do well with better with adult readers than teens, Between Shades of Gray and Symphony for the City of the Dead are two examples.

  8. Leonard Kim says:

    I agree with Mr. H that it’s possible to read the Newbery documents as saying age is an eligibility issue that could be decided by committee vote or higher-up ruling. But as Steven said in a previous post, it hasn’t worked that way in practice.

    I like Roxanne’s reminder: “this is why we have a community of readers from different parts of the country and working with different audiences (from professionals, grad school students, to the general public and elementary school students).” Honestly, it almost never happens on Heavy Medal that anyone’s argument changed someone else’s mind on age-appropriateness. As Steven said previously, the Newbery documents do not give criteria for determining age appropriateness, so people make their own. I don’t think it’s unhelpful to look to other media for possible reference points, but that doesn’t change the basic arguments. Those arguing “not for children” will say a faithful adaptation of THUG would be R-rated. And those arguing “for children” will say plenty of 14-year-olds seek out R-rated movies and the R-rated content is within their experience. Each side’s conclusion is clear and obvious from the criteria they choose, which are informed by their community. I don’t think anyone is choosing to ignore the definitions or change them (in either direction). I think DaNae’s reminder is good: nobody arguing against THUG is doing so out of a lack of inclusivity. They want people (including many children) to read the book. I think the diversity of opinion on whether THUG is a children’s book is natural. As Jonathan Hunt always said, Newbery is about consensus. As long as the Committee has the representation that Roxanne describes, the process can be trusted.

    Re: Roxanne’s question to me, I am curious whether there have been more Newbery awards for books aimed at 13-14-year-olds compared to books like Frog and Toad Together. Speaking purely personally, I have no problem with “narrow band” intended readerships if the book is sufficiently distinguished. I’ll probably vote for both VINCENT AND THEO and LOVING VS VIRGINIA in the mock poll. I happen not to think that “everyone of that age should know” THUG or that it’s “so distinguished, in so many ways,” or “exceptionally fine” for its even smaller actual readership that it deserves recognition.

  9. I have read and followed this thread with great interest. I think THUG is a marvelous debut but I do have a hard time seeing it as a Newbery winner. Much of it won me over, but when I stepped back and looked at what others have termed the ‘made for tv’ plot points I did feel those were valid. AND I really felt that the white characters, particularly boyfriend Chris were so generic as so be cardboard. While all the others were vibrant and real, this guy is just too good to be believed. I would have appreciated some sharing of his inner conflicts along the way.

    • I agree with you, Carol, re Chris’ lack of characterization and also the lack of the interplay of this couple with their school mates – especially since Chris is definitely not an outcast and should have a group of friends who would have possibly take sides with progression of the events — and Starr would have definitely felt/observed/be affected by their reactions. (Not just that one walk-out incident.)

      • There is much to admire in THUG and I really felt it was a novel with impact. I think we’re seeing many new voices at the table and Angie’s is a strong one. I want to make clear that my problems with Chris is a quibble but it piles on with the other concerns that I have about the book.

    • Of all the great characters in this book, I agree that Chris may be the weakest. At times it felt like he was there to ‘explain’ black culture to white readers. For instance, the scene during the riot, when Starr, DaVante, and Seven stop to have a talk about macaroni and cheese. It was funny, but the pacing seemed off, and it felt expository.

  10. I’m in camp “too old.” Or at least I think that high school is the target audience, not junior high. That would still include 14 year old freshmen, so then whatever you do with that. I think the text itself actually indicates this by how Starr talks about junior high. Several times when she’s thinking about her friends, she reminiscences about junior high as a time in the distant past when they were all innocent and obsessed with things she now considers silly like High School Musical and boybands. She seems to consider junior high part of her childhood and says the boyfriends she had in junior high don’t count. This attitude fits very well for a high school audience, but obviously a junior higher would not think about themselves in those terms.

  11. I know the discussion on this book has already happened but I have finally started it. I am just going to be very honest as a 5th grade teacher. The language in this book is very difficult to ignore. I just can’t imagine my kids reading it. I always love the Newbery because I feel the 5th and 6th grader are the prime audience for all the winners. I know that isn’t the point. However, I just had to say it and I totally know people will disagree with me. I’m not looking for an argument I’m just saying after all the hype I make about the award announcement this would be very awkward for me to handle!!!

Speak Your Mind