There were approximately 1,000 ways The Hate U Give could’ve gone wrong.

A novel about a police shooting and race relations all wrapped up in a coming-of-age story sounds like a recipe for either a deadly serious treatise on those subjects or an undercooked examination of multiple important issues currently weighing on the collective American consciousness.

Yet Angie Thomas somehow managed to hit the sweet spot between those extremes with The Hate U Give, an ostensibly young adult novel that tackles very adult problems and does so with wit, care and, most importantly, a huge heart.

The novel follows Starr Carter, a teenaged African-American girl caught between two worlds. Though she lives in the “hood” of Garden Heights, she attends a wealthy prep school where she is one of the few black kids in the entire place. It’s a fascinating dichotomy, and Thomas smartly has Starr act and talk noticeably differently when around folks from both communities.

Starr reunites with her childhood friend Khalil at a party in Garden Heights. On their way home, Khalil is pulled over and unceremoniously shot and killed by a white policeman. His story becomes national news, and Starr is inadvertently swept up in the investigation into his death as the only witness besides the police officers at the scene.

The rest of the novel chronicles Starr’s growth from timid bystander to outspoken activist who can no longer do nothing as Khalil’s death is misinterpreted and exploited by the media, the legal system, and friends from both parts of Starr’s life.

Thomas came up with a scenario that would send any teenager spiraling, and to her credit there is never a moment where any of Starr’s emotional trauma feels unearned or manipulative. That she was believably able to come back from an event that world-shattering and become a force for change is a testament to Thomas’ strong character work.

She also does a fantastic job capturing the reactions to Khalil’s death from the supporting characters, all who have a unique voice and come from different backgrounds with different levels of attachment to Khalil and Garden Heights. The responses range from full-on rage to quiet resignation to some characters even exonerating the police’s aggressive actions.

That latter take, naturally, comes from some of Starr’s classmates at her prep school, particularly from one (notably white) friend of hers who seems to have zero self-awareness of the damage her every word is doing to her friendship with Starr. Again, Thomas does a great job depicting the views these characters would have based on their circumstances.

One might think that this might be a joyless affair given the heavy subject matter. Luckily for readers, Thomas isn’t interested in just preaching her views on police violence and racial inequality. She is also here to craft the story of a young girl figuring out her place in the world, which happens to include plenty of amusing teen banter littered with pop culture references.

This is where The Hate U Give wears its young adult roots with pride, as the references are all modern enough that readers of all ages can appreciate them. At one point, Starr and a friend break out into a "High School Musical" song. In another, someone posits a surprisingly compelling theory that the houses in Harry Potter are actually gangs.

Those interludes may seem fluffy and tangential to the overall story, but they’re critical in establishing both Starr’s rapport with her friends and her overall engagement with the world at large. That last part becomes particularly crucial to understand when Khalil's killing thrusts her into a spotlight that she has only ever observed from afar up until that point.

The Hate U Give is just about the best version of this type of story as one could hope for. Some may find it a little on-the-nose, while others will probably see it as an empowering tale of a marginalized community rising from the shadows with a unified voice, led by one traumatized, brave girl who has seen more at her young age than most folks experience in a lifetime.

Either way, it’s worth giving it a try. Come for the zippy dialogue and dynamics of Starr’s two worlds, and stay for the heartfelt emotional beats and the deeper discussions that should be on all Americans’ minds right now.

Plus, you should read it before the movie version is released on October 19.

Joshua Axelrod (@jaxel222) is a graduate student in Media and Strategic Communications at George Washington University. Previously he was a web producer and pop politics writer for the Washington Examiner.