Tag Archives: Angie Thomas

Crazier by the day

We might as well give up.

I ought to say I’m grateful to my friend who sent me the link to this article (which you really must read) in The Spectator, but considering how awful its subject matter is, am I really grateful? It’s an interesting read; I’ll say that much. But it seems YA literature is in as much of a pickle as world politics. (I hope things will get better, but probably not before it’s got a lot worse.)

Do you remember what I had to say about sensitivity readers a while back? It’s OK, I had no recollection of it myself until I went digging for those occasions when I am in agreement with Lionel Shriver. (Seems I’ve agreed at least twice.)

Apparently you have to be politically correct in fantasy writing, as much as you do in ‘normal’ fiction. If not, you’ll be accused of cultural appropriation. And much as I’d like authors – new and old – to have a spine, I suspect that’s a lot easier to say than to practise.

As for those publishers who withdraw or apologise for causing offence, they really should have more spine. Or at the very least, they could think three times as much before accepting a work for publication, if all that will happen is that braying idiots on Twitter will cause them to take far too many steps backwards.

Some years ago I was visited here by someone looking out for Native Americans. She had many unpleasant things to say about authors who dare write about them without being one of them. I gather she isn’t one herself.

Where to draw the line? Lionel felt that memoirs would be all that was left, but who’s to say that won’t cause offence as well?

I discussed this with the Resident IT Consultant, who brought up Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series. It turned out we had different ideas about where it might be set. If the books are set somewhere vaguely real, that is. But she writes about both black and white characters. So far, as I understand it, people have been pleased that they are about black characters, and written by someone black, too. I don’t think I’ve come across the idea that there should be no white characters in the book. I have no objection to any of the white people in the story.

But what do I know?

Angie Thomas, who has been praised for writing amazing YA books, with mostly black characters, does have white people in her stories as well. You sort of have to, don’t you? I have no experience of life in Mississippi, either as black or white. I have no objection to Angie’s white characters. She mentioned at her event in March that one of the girls was based on a ‘friend’ at school. I can believe that. Not all whites are like her, but some probably are.

The book I reviewed yesterday, Dreamwalker, is fantasy, and features dragons and humans. James Oswald is human. So the question is did he describe the dragons correctly? Does he even have the right to write about dragons?

In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina we have mixed characters; half human, half dragon. Who, here, has the moral right to be offended for what Rachel did to one of them?

What many authors say to the common question – how do you know about xxx? – is to mention research, and ‘it’s fiction; I make it up.’

I don’t know where this will end, but I am ashamed of the YA bloggers, etc, who feel they have the right to ruin the lives of so many people by being so bloody rude. And insensitive. And other words I could list here but won’t.

Advertisements

The Hate U Give

You might have noticed me mentioning Angie Thomas a bit recently. Before Saturday’s event with her, I wanted to read her books, and ended up reading the second one and watching the film of the first book on DVD. I thought this would be efficient use of my time. One problem now is that I liked the film so much that I might need to read the book too.

Having read On the Come Up, I felt that The Hate U Give exactly mirrored Angie’s writing. I almost sat there nodding my head in agreement with everything, as though I was reading the book. Knowing how most films are not exactly like the novels they are based on, I should probably treat the film with a little pinch of salt. And then read the book.

The Hate U Give

A refreshingly black film, I was aware that I don’t know much at all. I’ve no experience of the lives the characters lead, and it was often hard to hear what they were saying. But that’s me, not them. Just as fans of the books like the fact that the characters speak like them, that goes for the film as well.

The Carter family live in a poor, black neighbourhood, but ambition for their children means that all three are sent to the mostly white school further away. As the main character Starr says, she’s another person when she’s at school. She has to be. And Starr does it so well that none of her friends have an inkling what her real life is like.

Starr is with a childhood friend when he is shot and killed by the police. Her whole life changes. She doesn’t know what to do or whose advice she should take, but eventually she realises she needs to stand up for her friend and do ‘the right thing.’

It’s a bleak situation, handled very well. As Angie said, she needs triumph to balance the trauma, so it’s not all negative. But to stay true to what so many black people face every day, this feels like a hopeless situation. You shouldn’t have to spend every day in fear of what the police will do if they ‘notice’ you. Except this is reality for millions in America.

THE HATE U GIVE

Starr’s family are not perfect, but they work together. Her dad has been in jail, and her mum is another strong mother, just like Bri’s in On the Come Up. There are friends, neighbours, an uncle, even the local crooks.

I rather wish they had not made Starr’s white boyfriend* look like a Republican senator-to-be, but other than that this film was pretty perfect. It’s certainly an eye-opener. The question is whether those who need to see it, will.

(Photo © Erika Doss)

*I understand that the original actor was dropped because he made racist remarks. That proves how necessary books and films like this one are.

Angie Thomas

‘Do they know it’s not August?’ both Offspring asked. They did. They being the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And bless them for having an extra event for us, in the dreary days of March, when it was so cold that I suspect Angie Thomas, whose event this was, wanted nothing more than to get back to Mississippi. ‘I can’t do cold weather,’ she said. Although it appears Scottish shortbread goes some way to pacify her.

Angie Thomas ticket

This event, where Angie spoke to poet Nadine Aisha Jassat, was very popular. People queued outside the Gordon Aikman lecture theatre in George Square before being let in. It was a predominantly female audience, mostly young ones, but a fair few unaccompanied adults too. This is testament to how well known this new American author has become, and how popular she is. I’m guessing most had read both her books, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up.

As one [black] fan in the audience pointed out, Edinburgh is not a very black city, or I’m sure there would have been a much larger proportion of black readers present. Angie’s books must be what they have all been waiting for. I would have, if only I’d known.

On this, her only Scottish gig, Angie said you should do what you’re scared of. She’s surprised that she’s now making a living lying, which she’d not been expecting when working as a church secretary in Mississippi, occasionally writing her novel at work. Like her two heroines, Starr and Bri, she grew up in a poor black area, going to a white school, having to live two different lives.

‘I respond to things’ is how she describes herself. She changed after a shooting of a young man in California, where everyone concentrated on the fact that he was an ex-con, rather than on the fact that he was lying on the ground and was shot in the back. So Angie wrote The Hate U Give to prevent herself from burning down her school in anger. And On the Come Up was written in response to that book.

Writing is cathartic, and she has inspired young people to write, which has empowered her. For many of them it has been a revelation to read a novel where ‘they talk like I talk, they sound like me.’ Angie pointed out that although her speech may sound simple, using words like ain’t, she has a GPA of just below 4, which is very high.

Angie wants people to remember that Trayvon Martin was a boy whose mother loved him. She also said that contrary to popular belief that black fathers are not part of their children’s lives, there are statistics that prove they are more than average involved. For Angie it’s important to concentrate on the people, not on the issues.

She feels that she can’t worry about what others think of her; it’s better to follow her heart. The best way to change the world, is to change the world around you.

And with that it was time for questions, and we were all very taken with the flying mic. It’s a soft – red – cube, that was chucked round the auditorium. It was hard not to hold your breath as you watched to see where it would land, and if its intended target was going to miss. First one out was someone I know, and it was one of many really good questions.

Angie Thomas, with Sheila

Angie feels that white Americans have stolen from the country by celebrating people like Dr [Martin Luther] King only after their deaths, especially when they were responsible for him dying. But she’s hopeful, feeling that the young of today are much more aware of issues. ‘The work has to start now.’

She has always made up stories, beginning by rewriting Green Eggs and Ham because she didn’t like the ending. At the age of eight she entertained her friends at school with cliffhangers. Her books need both the trauma and the triumph, which answered a question I’d had too. Subjects like fatal shootings don’t generally have much good about them, but Angie has inserted hope into her stories.

She loved Harry Potter. Those books ‘saved my life!’ And we could see that in The Hate U Give; it’s almost incongruous to have the famous wizard in a story about crime against black people in America. But it gives it recognisable reality (I know. They are books about magic), something nearly all of us know.

On the Come Up features hiphop, which when it’s good Angie describes as poetry. Luckily someone asked her to rap, which she did, long and well, to jubilant applause. (The sign interpreter in Newcastle the day before had had to give up halfway…)

Asked about her books being banned, Angie said that ‘the banned book list is a great list’ to be on. Americans always want to read more of banned books.

At first Angie hadn’t been sure it was OK to write the way she did, so she asked an agent on Twitter, which is how she got herself an agent, and how her debut novel had 13 US publishers fighting to get it. Another five in the UK. Her very sensible editor tells her that she needn’t worry about how she writes; she should stick to being authentic, and if white readers don’t get it, they can Google. There are apparently a number of in-jokes in both books…

Angie Thomas

We could easily have done another hour. As it was, Angie had a plane to catch, but there was time for some signing downstairs. At first I wondered why so many fans went to the toilet instead, until I realised the signing queue went down to that level and then round and up the other stairs, and initially back outside as well.

I chatted briefly to a friend before going in search of Dodo and Son for some tea. When we’d failed to get into our first two choices of café, and walked back behind the lecture theatre, the queue was still going strong.

Angie Thomas

I’d say that was one successful event. Even if it was in March.

They come in waves, don’t they?

‘What if I say Beverley Naidoo?’ I asked.

I had been talking YA authors with someone; someone who had only started reading YA not very long ago. And I wasn’t thinking, so mentioned Celia Rees and was met by a blank stare. It’s understandable. If you are recommended books to try right now, it will be the most talked about books and authors, plus some olden goldies like Philip Pullman and David Almond. Names ‘everyone’ has heard of.

Whereas when I began reading current YA novels 20 or 25 years ago, there was no Meg Rosoff or Keren David or Angie Thomas. At the time Celia Rees and Beverley Naidoo were the reigning queens to me, along with Gillian Cross and Anne Cassidy. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman and Linda Newbery. Anne Fine. Malorie Blackman.

No matter how many I list here, I will forget someone really important. Most of them still write and publish, but perhaps not as frequently as before.

There’s the group of authors who appeared when Bookwitch [the blog] was in her infancy, with 2010 being a particularly fruitful year. Candy Gourlay and Keren David, followed by Teri Terry and Kathryn Evans. Again, I will have left someone out.

And now, those ladies have many books under their belts, and there is a new wave of YA authors. I mentioned Angie Thomas, because she’s brand new, both in the book world, and to me. She’s also American, which seems to be where things are happening now.

When I reviewed Celia’s latest novel, I compared it to Truth or Dare, and her reaction to that was that I’m probably the only person who’s been around long enough to have read both it, and the new book. This struck me as silly, as surely everyone would have read Truth or Dare. Wouldn’t they? Well, they haven’t, and it’s not lack of dedication, or anything. Most YA readers don’t last a couple of decades. Real, young people, grow up, and move on to other stuff. And if you’re already ‘old’ and catching up, you can’t read everything.

But when I first met Beverley Naidoo, I almost curtsied.

On the Come Up

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been on all the lists, including, strangely enough, IKEA’s. I was aware of the book. Well, you can’t help being aware, but somehow felt it might not be for me.

Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

So when I wanted to read something by Angie, I decided to go straight to her second novel, On the Come Up. I’m not sure I know exactly what that means, but it doesn’t matter because it is Absolutely Fantastic.

Bri is 16 and wants to be a rapper. She and her brother live in poverty with their unemployed mother Jay, who must be one of the greatest fictional mothers ever!

I’m not sure whether the story is set somewhere real, or made up, but it feels very true. Bri and a few of her black friends are bussed out to a white school, where their parents hope for a future for their children, and the school hopes for more funds for taking them. It’s a school where the guards on the door unfairly target the black students.

Bri’s dead father was a famous rapper and she wants to be like him, except more like herself. It’s a hard world, and a dangerous one; white police on one side and enemy gangs on the other. Drugs. Violence.

Now, I know virtually nothing about rapping; what makes it good, or even why you do what you do. I’m old and white and I don’t get it. But I love this book. I’d have liked a soundtrack, just to keep me in there with Bri and her friends, and her drug dealing aunt and the neighbourhood children.

Yes, I know. I sound like some idiotic old white Witch. But this is one great book, with characters you’d like to meet.

Read it, even if you are a bit old.

Angie Thomas, On the Come Up

(I bought my own copy, so feel less guilty about saying that the UK cover above does rather less for me than the US cover, top, which seems much more Bri.)