(Book Review) Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

“Son, one of the biggest lies ever told is that Black men don’t feel emotions. Guess it’s easier to not see us as human when you think we’re heartless. Fact of the matter is, we feel things. Hurt, pain, sadness, all of it. We got a right to show them feelings as much as anybody else.” (Concrete Rose 163-64).

Concrete Rose, the prequel to Angie Thomas’s hit book, The Hate U Give, is a moving coming of age story that focuses on a young Maverick Carter in the aftermath of finding out that he has a baby son. He thought that the baby belonged to his best friend, King, but when a DNA test reveals the truth and the baby’s mother leaves the three-month-old boy with Maverick, he has to grow up fast. Mav renames the baby Seven, the number of perfection and a number significant to theories about the recently departed Tupac. For those who loved Starr in The Hate U Give, this book leads up to the time just before her birth. Mild spoilers ahead.

This book was amazing. Thanks to my own daughter taking an uncharacteristically long nap, I read it in one day. I couldn’t put it down.

I really like Angie Thomas’s style as a writer in general. I think she handles heavy topics with prose that is light with hope and youth and then hits hard when the moment is right. That is true of this book as well. Whereas The Hate U Give dealt with police brutality and had Maverick’s history with the gang on the side, this book deals with the difficulty Maverick faces as a young father whose own father is in prison. Maverick struggles to make ends meet, to go to school when his son keeps him up all night, and with grief after his cousin is killed in a robbery.

I think what is especially noteworthy about this book is the focus on a single father. Usually, when a book handles teen pregnancy, it follows a young mother, her decisions and struggles. In Concrete Rose, however, Maverick becomes a father in an instant and struggles to learn how to fill that role. The result is funny and very touching. We also get a vivid picture of the inner life of a conflicted young man that is tender and surprisingly sweet. I thought the metaphor of a rose worked beautifully, as Maverick has to grow, pruning parts of his life. It had the double meaning also tied to Tupac’s The Rose That Grew From Concrete. Finally, as Maverick focuses on becoming a man, he is surrounded by male role models who provide different sorts of guidance. His cousin, Dre, another young father in the gang, encourages him to take care of his child while also providing him the love and support of a peer. From his boss, Mr. Wyatt, Maverick receives discipline and a more traditional model of masculinity. Maverick’s father, Adonis, serves as both a model of the type of father he doesn’t want to be and as a source of advice when it comes to Maverick’s evolving role in “the set.”

I do not usually enjoy prequels very much, so my expectations going into this book were limited. I was so moved, however, by Maverick’s story and the inner life that Thomas gives him. This was such a beautiful read.

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