Who hated compare and contrast assignments in high school English class? Not me! After the initial angst over the enormity of the task (how will I do this assignment justice and remember to include all I need to say?), I dug in and things eventually took on a life of their own.
Now I am doin' it just for fun, just because I like the way it adds another layer of critical thought and maybe even deeper contemplation to the story.
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Race and Racism: Yesterday and Today.
Two amazing stories that are so engaging and so well written they appeal to a wide audience. Whitehead's story of a young woman determined to flee the chains of slavery she was born into, sends us on a journey unlike no other. Cora opens our eyes to the lines drawn between good and evil and the people who are out to either help or destroy others. Thomas's present day story introduces us to Starr, a young girl straddling two worlds, one where people fight just to stay alive and one where privilege and ignorance are measured out in daily heaping doses. These two stories clear out all the extraneous stuff that gets in the way of real human connection and both do it brilliantly in their own unique ways. They make you think twice and isn't that the whole point.
Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
The pre-civil war story of a young woman’s inferno driven desire to escape slavery. Cora’s journey from plantation to the life she dreams of via the Underground Railroad system is riveting from start to finish.
As Cora journeys from state to state she is haunted by the mother who made her escape years before and left Cora all alone in a cruel world. While being ruthlessly hunted by a particular slave catcher priding himself on his record, she learns the harsh lesson that more than one type of slavery exists and that the bonds of oppression can take many different forms.
I cannot imagine a better story being written on this topic. It is rich in history but with the individual perspective sewn tightly in. Man’s abject cruelty takes center stage. The threads are drawn concisely from Cora’s experiences to present day injustices so that the reader is easily able to connect the dots if he or she chooses to do so.
Cora’s trip of a lifetime and those she encounters along the way factor prominently as she labors to carve out a life on her own terms.
Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Starr Carter is a sixteen year old living in the ghetto but attending a prestigious school not far away. Her ability to straddle these two worlds makes her one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. As one of the few black students in her school, Starr learns early to restrain herself and battles to remain her true self while still fitting in. She has affluent friends, a white boyfriend, and is well liked.
At home, Starr is the product of two parents who love and support her and who also work hard to give her and her brothers opportunities that they did not have. Though they live in a depressed neighborhood, there is a solid sense of community, love, and spirit.
On one fateful night Starr is the sole witness to the brutal shooting of her unarmed childhood friend by a confused and misinformed police officer after they were returning from a party. This is the point where Starr’s two worlds begin to collide as she is faced with a critical decision to speak up and fight for justice or lay low and live with fear and injustice.
Starr’s inner struggle to merge all parts of herself and integrate into a world she is comfortable inhabiting is akin to watching a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon to take its rightful place in the world as a butterfly. It is one of the best parts of the book. Thomas shows us decent people trying to make a life for themselves and their children amongst gangs and gang mentality. They are unsung heroes living with a real danger and uncertainty in their day to day lives that some are privileged not to have to experience. Starr is the bridge that connects these separate worlds.
Racism and the racial divide are the prevalent themes addressed in The Hate U Give and the ongoing ways this affects all of us. A lack of justice and consideration for certain races is not only blatant but Thomas shows just how incomprehensible it is to expect a young girl to shoulder such a horrific burden yet be expected to walk through life as if nothing happened and nothing is wrong. Starr is a human being with so much heart, I dare anyone not to fall in love with her. Her strength and resilience are inaccessible to many yet she never holds that against them.
I could not put this book down. Told with humor, poignancy, and a sharp wit, The Hate You Give should be at the top of everyone’s reading list.