#IMWAYR: Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
Is anybody else having the urge to read every single book you own and have read, own and haven't read, or don't own at all? It is seriously driving me crazy, especially since, until the end of this week, I barely have time to read at all! But I do have a review for today, which I am writing at the very last minute, so it will probably be shorter than usual. Today, I'm looking at Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas.
A word of caution to any young readers: this is a YA (young adult) book, not an MG (middle grade) book, and it contains somewhat mature content.
If you're not aware (though most of you probably are), Concrete Rose is the third book by the inimitable Angie Thomas, following up her showstopping debut The Hate U Give and her excellent follow-up On The Come Up (which is getting a movie adaptation!). Thomas has tackled countless different aspects of what it is like to be Black in the United States in her books, with The Hate U Give being well-known for its focus on police brutality. Concrete Rose is a prequel to The Hate U Give that revolves around Maverick Carter, the father of The Hate U Give's protagonist, Starr. Because I'm exhausted, I'll just be including the publisher's description below:
International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood.
If there’s one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it’s that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad’s in prison.
Life’s not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav’s got everything under control.
Until, that is, Maverick finds out he’s a father.
Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it’s not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he’s expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he’s different.
When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can't just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He’ll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.
OK, I'm back. I am pretty sure that basically every single other person on Earth who read Concrete Rose loved it. But honestly, I really struggled to like this book. I'm going to try to explain why—I don't know if I can, but we'll see. With both of Angie Thomas's previous books, I have felt completely attached to the protagonists, Starr and Bri. I feel what they feel, understand why they make the occasional bad decisions they make, and ultimately really like them as people. But with Concrete Rose, I just did not feel the same way about Maverick. I worry that some kind of unconscious prejudice of mine is getting in the way, but I think there's more to it than that. First of all, Maverick does a CERTAIN THING early in the book (which, well...let's just say it sets the stage for The Hate U Give), and I could not muster up much empathy regarding this decision. I get that Maverick is 17, and that teenagers sometimes make bad decisions in the heat of the moment. But honestly, Maverick is a smart kid who has literally already had to deal with the fallout of an issue like this one—you would think he might learn from that experience and not do what he did. It made it hard to get attached to the hope of a better life for Maverick when he, at least at this point, seems practically determined to set himself further back. Maverick's on-again-off-again (mostly off-again) relationship with Lisa was frustrating at times as well—there comes a point at which he's basically just harassing her, even though she has literally said no to him a bazillion times (and then starts leading him on, which is also bad on her part, but still). In general, Maverick and some of the other characters in the story are kind of sexist, and even though this book is set in a different time, I still wasn't impressed by all of that. And speaking of Maverick and Lisa, Maverick's desperation to earn her back causes him to do exactly the opposite of the thing that would earn her back, and it just felt so forced and obvious and "What are you THINKING???!!!" As I write this, I am starting to understand that the real message of this book is that, sometimes, teenagers have decisions forced into their hands they are NOT ready to make—but even so, it is just excruciating to watch, and the solutions feel so obvious that you just keep asking yourself why Maverick can't see them. I feel like Angie Thomas doesn't do as good a job as in past books of spelling out why her protagonist acts the way she/he acts, and although some of you may better understand the experiences of people like Maverick and been able to explain his behaviors yourself, I was too uninformed to do anything but stare on in shock and sorrow. And in the end, I don't feel like I understand Maverick or people like him any better.
Also, with Angie Thomas's previous books, I have been struck by how incredibly she juggles multiple plotlines and themes throughout the story. But with this book, it feels like a lot of things get dropped or left by the wayside. Maverick is in a gang, and his two reasons for not leaving are that the gang protects him and that the gang would get revenge if he left. I get the second reason, but the first is really not supported at all in the story—he has some shallow friendships with other gang members, and that is pretty much all that we see him gaining from the gang. Maverick's experience as a new father also gets skimmed over a bit—I would have liked more time seeing Maverick connecting with Seven and maturing as a result, and less time worrying over the CERTAIN THING I mentioned previously. And if I'm being totally honest, I didn't feel like there was a single good thing that happened in this book—each chapter ends on a progressively more horrible note, and where some books have such an emotional impact that they keep you reading to see what happens (such as Long Way Down, which deals with some similar issues), Concrete Rose just sucked the joy out of me and made me want to put the book down and not pick it back up. And one more thing—I don't know if you all remember, but ***spoilers of The Hate U Give*** Maverick literally goes to prison for 3 years before the events of that book, and ***spoilers of this book*** that just doesn't happen at all in this book! So I spent the whole book agonizing about that for nothing. Maybe we'll get another prequel about Lisa after Maverick goes to prison or something—Lisa is great, so that could actually be pretty good. I mean, besides the part where Maverick literally goes to prison—that will obviously be bad. ***spoilers end***
With all of that said, there are obviously valuable things about Concrete Rose, things which I actually really liked. Speed round of stuff: Although I feel like the issue was dealt with better in the aforementioned Long Way Down, I did appreciate that Concrete Rose tackles the loss of one of Maverick's loved ones in a shooting—and how he struggles to grieve under the expectations of being the "man" of the family and the strong wish for revenge against the killer. I loved Maverick's relationship with Mr. Wyatt and how he believes in Maverick and gets Maverick to believe in himself too. The scenes that we did get with Maverick and Seven were very well-written—babies in general are just adorable, so put a baby in the scene and I'm happy! I appreciated the points about how juggling so much stress as a 17-year-old makes it hard to take advantage of school, which can act as the one opportunity for people like Maverick to reach fulfilling lives. Particularly later in the book, Maverick and Lisa's chemistry becomes more apparent and less problematic, which was enjoyable. Both of Maverick's parents (of whom his father is incarcerated) were very compelling characters who had powerful relationships with Maverick. And as one last thing, I appreciate Thomas's continued efforts to include LGBTQ+ characters in her books—she could definitely get away without doing so, but I do appreciate that she works to be supportive of other communities that could always use the support.
I wish that I liked Concrete Rose more than I did. I wish that I could have read it and written some profound review about how it changed my outlook on society and all that. I wish that I had the energy to make even this critical review more insightful than it was. I wish that I had the energy to grapple with the awful truths of this world. And I wish that the awful truths did not exist in the first place. But alas, all of those are just wishes. I don't know if my negative thoughts about this book come from the writing, my inability to deal with all of the pain of the world, Maverick being less compelling than Thomas's other protagonists, or even possible unconscious prejudice on my part (I really hope it's not that, because I literally read books like this for the express purpose of reducing that prejudice). But regardless, my thoughts are my thoughts, and for whatever reason, I insist on sharing them for a small corner of the Internet to read. Thomas is still a ridiculously talented and fantastic author, and I will be anxiously waiting for her next book—and you all should make sure to get The Hate U Give and On The Come Up read ASAP. But as for Concrete Rose, well, I'll leave you to make that decision yourself. In the meantime, I will be attempting to give myself a respite from the world's woes with a graphic novel involving a talking bear—we'll see if that lives up to expectations next week!