Published by Walker Books on January 12th 2021
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.
I really loved The Hate U Give, and while I didn’t enjoy On the Come Up quite as much, I still thought it was a great read, so it was impossible not to go into Concrete Rose a bit apprehensive about whether it could live up to my expectations. A prequel to The Hate U Give, Concrete Rose follows Starr’s dad, Maverick, and while I remembered liking him from THUG he wasn’t one of those stand out characters who stuck with me particularly, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d really connect with him and his backstory, given that he hadn’t been a favourite character before. I needn’t have worried though – again, Thomas has given us a character you can’t help but respect, and I ended up loving the book.
The first thing to say is that I’m probably not exactly the target audience for this book – as a nearly-30 year old teacher in the UK I’m probably not who the publisher envisions browsing the YA section of the bookshops, but if you’re wondering if you’re ‘too old for YA’ or if you ‘just won’t get it’, this is definitely not the case with Concrete Rose. The novel’s told from a first-person point of view, and although the slang and informal tone took me a minute to get used to, I quickly sank into it, and it really helped bring Mav to life for me – unlike some YA books, he sounds like a teenager, even while he’s having to grapple with these huge adult decisions.
View this post on Instagram
Maverick Carter is a teenage boy, trying to balance school, his relationship with his girlfriend and helping his mum pay the bills by dealing drugs. It’s not necessarily the life he wants, but he’s making it work, and truth be told, he doesn’t really feel like he has too many other options, so he’s making the best of things, and enjoying the good things. His life is thrown into chaos when he discovers he’s a father, and now he has to try and figure out how to keep a newborn baby alive, on top of all the stuff he was juggling before, AND now he has to deal with the fact he’s disappointed his mother by falling into the stereotypes she warned him against, and all the judgements he gets from society because of that. On top of everything else, selling drugs while looking after a baby is much harder, and he’s beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable about it too – but how do you get out of a gang like the King Lords? Well, to put it bluntly you don’t. Not without taking the fall for someone else in a big way, and he can’t do that and leave his son without a dad. Feeling even more trapped than before, Mav has to decide how he can provide for his baby, which means making some serious, life-changing decisions, and deciding just what he can live with, and what he can’t.
Despite the serious issues tackled in the book, Concrete Rose is full of heart. It had plenty of moments that made me snort with laughter, as well as a few that were heart-breaking. There are characters that will have you rolling your eyes in frustration, but because they’ve made a decision that infuriates you, even though you can absolutely see why they have. There are relationships between family, friends, and partners, which are real and authentic seeming; this isn’t a world of first kiss then leads automatically to happily ever after, and is so much more believable for that. People make mistakes, they say things out of hurt or anger that they shouldn’t, they react badly to other people’s decisions, and that just makes it all the more poignant and heart-warming when they get things right. These are relationships you can imagine in your own life, not just in a Disney story, and that’s one of the things I absolutely loved about the book.
Concrete Rose is an emotive, powerful read that I did not want to put down. Mav is one of the most believable, relatable, three-dimensional teenagers I’ve read about for a long time, and even when you don’t agree with his choices, it’s impossible not to empathise with him and understand exactly why he reacts the way he does. It’s a coming of age story, but like all real journeys, it has stops and starts, moments of progress and moments of backsliding, and Mav feels authentically like a teenager growing up. There’s plenty to discuss here about stereotypes, about gangs, about teenagers and teenage parents, about BLM and justice, about redemption and complicated family relationships, and yet it never once feels preachy or condescending. It’d be perfect for a bookclub or a classroom library (I’ll definitely be buying a copy for my library when I’m allowed to lend out books again!) but it’s also just a brilliant read that I didn’t want to put down. We’re expecting our first baby in a couple of months, so admittedly that may have helped me connect with the plot-line, but I genuinely think there’s something here for everyone, no matter how far your experience might be from his. At a time when we’re all making an effort to educate ourselves, to understand institutionalized racism, what anti-racism is and how we can be involved, and hopefully just generally be more open, more empathetic people, reading Concrete Rose would be a wonderful place to start.
Buy it? Absolutely, no doubt for me on this one!
In a nutshell: A must read for teenagers and adults alike.