Where roses bloom in concrete
Angie Thomas has done it again.
If you thought the unapologetically outspoken Starr Carter from The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray, 2017) was a force to be reckoned with, it's time you met the man who raised her to be so: Maverick Carter.
Angie Thomas' latest release, Concrete Rose (Balzer + Bray, 2021), acts as a prequel to her 2017 bestseller which had featured Maverick's daughter Starr as the protagonist. The Hate U Give had introduced us to a black American teen struggling to find her identity in between two communities in the aftermath of a racially-motivated shooting of an innocent black child. In Concrete Rose, Thomas takes us on a bit of a trip down Maverick Carter's memory lane, exploring the Garden Heights neighborhood in the 1990s, as witnessed by a 17-year-old Mav, then-a gang runner for the King Lords.
The 360-page novel is divided into three sections: "Germination", "Growth", and "Dormancy". Maverick's story starts off on a considerably wholesome note with a neighborhood basketball game that Maverick and his friends from the King Lords gang are participating in. It is here that Thomas deftly sets up Garden Heights' gang-run environment alongside Maverick's backstory as a long-term resident in the neighborhood. Written entirely from Maverick's point of view, the drug-running gangs, King Lords and Garden Disciples, are initially presented as a vital part of Garden Heights' community spirit in the young protagonist's eyes, easing the readers into the norms of a fictional world that's been heavily modeled, unfortunately, on the one we live in.
The dialogues exchanged between the characters largely makes use of African American vernacular slangs, which indicates a strong political move on Thomas' part. This is a black woman taking back the black slang language that is often culturally appropriated by non-black individuals via social media lingo and other avenues.
It is hard to detect the ominous sense of foreboding in the narrative early on, as Thomas manages to paint an uplifting image which gradually transitions into one marred by violence. In its portrayal of damaged youth against the backdrop of a black American community, Concrete Rose breaks away from the stereotypes found in most YA novels written from white perspectives. You won't see a black teen predictably drowning their sorrows with the help of narcotics. Instead, Thomas offers some insightful social commentary by highlighting the plight of misguided and desperate black teens and children, forced to partake in illegal activities as gang-runners as a means to not only make ends meet, but ensure security in a violent environment.
At its heart, Concrete Rose is the polar opposite of The Hate U Give. Starr Carter's story was one of a full-fledged rebellion against systemic racism, while her father's is centered around personal growth and finding independence. The author never places Maverick on the mantle of a hero. Instead, our protagonist is an everyman with real problems regarding unplanned parenthood and family trauma, which motivates the reader to become all the more invested in such a tenderly-written character.
Maverick Carter's story is simultaneously rooted in both trauma and love. When push comes to shove, the 17-year-old finds himself at a crossroads trying to process both the death of a family member and his new responsibilities as a young father. The reader walks alongside him in his journey towards manhood, bearing witness to the difficulties associated with breaking out of oppressive societal norms and growing under the influence of a parent in criminal incarceration.
Did this book break my heart at certain moments? Yes.
Will I still recommend that you give it a read? Believe me when I tell you that the heartbreaks are worth it.
Rasha Jameel studies microbiology whilst pursuing her passion for writing. Reach her at email@example.com.
Angie Thomas's Concrete Rose (Balzer + Bray, 2021) is available at Omni Books, Dhanmondi.