The choice of the Mills annual Common Read was announced in a schoolwide email on Tuesday afternoon, April 16. The Common Read is a book given to all incoming Mills students with supplemental questions to foster discussion and provoke thought.
“The Hate U Give” is a 2017 fiction book written by Angie Thomas, wherein a sixteen year old witnesses the police shooting her childhood best friend. It has accrued multiple awards since its release, including the Coretta Scott King Honor, the National Book Award Longlist and became a #1 New York Times Bestseller. The book has been adapted into an award-winning movie starring Amandla Stenberg.
“‘The Hate U Give’ is an exploration of racial violence, youth activism, and the power of community,” read the email from Mills. “Through a fictional story of an unarmed African American teenager gunned down by police, Thomas engages themes that are all too real, including institutionalized racism, educational inequality, voice, silence, and power, all through the eyes of a teenage girl protagonist.”
This Common Read follows last year’s choice of “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” by Novella Carpenter, whose community discussion was met with criticism by Mills students. Some of the criticisms were Carpenter’s lack of focus on important issues like gentrification and privilege and using racialized words like “ghetto” to describe Oakland.
In the Common Read handout, the Mills Division of Student Life wrote, “Having the Common Read as a shared intellectual experience with your cohort will allow for many stimulating discussions throughout the academic year as you engage with its themes of food and community, race and poverty, and social justice movements in Oakland.”
“Farm City” acted as Carpenter’s memoir as she moved to Oakland and used an abandoned lot next to her house to cultivate a farm.
“The issues around last year’s book prompted us to develop a more formalized book selection process with more student input than in the past,” Associate Provost for Recruitment and Student Success and Professor of Sociology Dr. Margaret Hunter said in an email. “We chose ‘The Hate U Give’ because it discusses important issues that we are all grappling with now.”
The email described the Common Read Selection Committee as comprising of three first-year students, two faculty and one staff member. 27 book nominations were submitted by members of the student body, and the committee chose five books as semi-finalists to read over the winter holidays, culminating in “The Hate U Give” as the final choice.
The two-hour movie adaptation of the book was released in Oct. 2018 to positive reviews, in particular focusing on lead actor Amandla Stenberg’s performance. Stenberg received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, and the movie has received multiple nominations and awards as well, although it was not nominated for the Academy Awards, which disappointed many.
The discussion questions for the book were posted in the email, ranging from inquiries of “How is this novel, intended for young adults, an exploration of youth activism? Why is this issue particularly important for young people today?” to “How does this story resemble real world events that have transpired in recent years? How is this story different?”
In contrast, the discussion questions for last year’s “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” included “How does Carpenter’s description of her neighborhood challenge and/or reinforce common depictions of Oakland? What hidden aspects of life in Oakland are revealed in the book?” and “How can food justice and urban farming movements play a role in fighting inequality? How is food related to culture, community, and power?”
The Common Read is not intended to be reflective of Mills’ institutional ideologies and platforms.
“The book selection is not meant to be a statement of a campus position, but rather a jumping off point for a lively discussion about important issues of the day,” said Hunter.