Concrete Rose – review

Author: Angie Thomas
Publication date: January 12, 2021
Genre: YA contemporary/recent historical
My rating: 5/5 stars

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Going into this book, I knew I would love it. Angie Thomas is a phenomenal writer and both of her first two books blew me away. But y’all, I did not expect it to be this phenomenal. Writing a prequel can be a risky move, so I was a little skeptical about how this one would work out–but this one was flawlessly executed, fusing both pain and joy in the experiences of a Black teenage boy who finds himself unexpectedly a father. I know it’s only February, but I think it’s safe to say this book will wind up in my top ten reads of this year. Just…wow.

The Plot

Or, the blurb from Goodreads:

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.

Review

This book, in my opinion, combined the best elements of each of Angie’s first two books. Like The Hate U Give, it dealt with larger and more difficult themes, especially the fraught relationship between gangs and poverty. Dealing drugs is a necessity for Mav, not a choice, because it’s the only way he can afford to both support a baby and help his overworked mother pay the bills. And like On the Come Up, it had a more complex and flawed protagonist–Maverick is not always always in the right, and he makes some poor choices and has to deal with the fallout. He doesn’t always find a way out of his mistakes; some setbacks really are large and lasting for him. But he is a compelling character, too, always candid, balancing teenage immaturity with surprisingly deep insights. You can’t not root for him–he just works his way into your heart.

Everything about this book was, to put it bluntly, amazing. From the language (leaning strongly into AAVE, more so than I recall either of her other two books doing, which makes perfect sense for Maverick’s character), to the plotting (this one is so hard to put down, with every scene propelling into the next one with beautiful fluidity), to the emotional impact (both the grief over certain deaths and the absolute joy of Maverick dealing with his baby–every time he started rapping for Seven while changing his diaper, I couldn’t help but grin), it was all-around stellar. Its exploration of themes surrounding the transition from boyhood to manhood, and the added complexities of facing that transition while being Black and raising a child, was nuanced as well. Mav’s complex relationship with Lisa was a realistic rollercoaster, the making up and breaking up and everything in between. And the love between Mav and his cousin (practically brother) Dre? Oh my god, so good.

Fans of Angie’s first two books will be pleasantly surprised to see cameos from characters across both of them–in addition to obvious players like Maverick, Lisa, and baby Seven, there are mentions of Khalil, Lucius (yes, Bri’s dad), Brenda, and more. They don’t feel fanservice-y, but rather provide points of continuity that emphasize how closely-knit the Garden Heights families are, even across generations.

I could go on for ages, but I don’t think I need to. Just pick this one up. It is so good, so important, and so worth the read.

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