Anissa Hidouk
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September 26, 2018 at 03:06 PM EDT

This Banned Books Week, there’s hardly a better novel to discuss than The Hate U Give.

Angie Thomas’ YA phenomenon — recently adapted into an acclaimed film, and having spent more than 80 weeks at or near the top of the New York Times best-seller list — has been facing pushback from school districts ever since it was published. The novel centers on Starr Carter, a teenage girl who lives between two worlds: the predominantly black community she and her family live in, and the predominantly white high school she attends. When her friend, unarmed, is killed senselessly by a police officer, she rises as an activist and asserts pride in her black identity.

In November of last year, a parent’s complaint in the small city of Katy, Texas, specifically about the featured drug use and explicit language in the book, led the entire school district to ban The Hate U Give, even as books featuring more graphic depictions of drug use (not to mention racism and sexuality) sat on its shelves. And earlier this year, South Carolina police objected for novel’s placement on high-school reading lists, taking issue with its tackling of police brutality and advocating strongly that it be removed. These are but a few of many instances of resistance — banning, at times — that The Hate U Give has faced.

EW caught up with Thomas during Banned Books Week to get her perspective on these persistent efforts, particularly in light of the film version’s impending blockbuster release.

HarperCollins

“When you say ‘Black Lives Matter’ to three different people, you get 30 different reactions,” Thomas says. “There are so many misunderstandings. There’s the assumption that it’s an antipolice book, when the fact is it’s anti-police brutality.” She continues, in regard to the language: “There are books with way more curse words in them, for one. And two, there are 89 F-bombs in The Hate U Give. But there were 800 people killed by police officers last year alone.”

As to whether parents should feel concerned with teens encountering the book’s material? Thomas believes it’s too important to ignore, and reminds that the book is written for and targeted to an adolescent audience. “We have to have discussions about police brutality…. Honestly, there is a fear among some parents — I’ll just say it: white parents — who say, ‘I’m not sure my child is ready for this,'” Thomas explains. “The fact is, black parents are [needing] to have these conversations with their 9-and 10-year-olds about the subject matter in this book. I need white children to be aware of that.”

Thomas is finding, however, that as the movie version gains steam, that some may be willing to give the book a second look. “Now it’s like, ‘It’s not just a best-seller. It has a movie coming out. This is something the kids are really talking about. Maybe we should give it a shot,” she explains. “I’d say the movie has helped with that.”

The Hate U Give is available for purchase. The film hits select theaters on Oct. 5.

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