With his King Lord dad in prison and his mom working two jobs, seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter helps the only way he knows how: slinging drugs. Life’s not perfect, but he’s got everything under control. Until he finds out he’s a father…
Suddenly, it’s not so easy to deal drugs and finish school with a baby dependent on him for everything. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. But when King Lord blood runs through your veins, you don’t get to just walk away.
First published: 2021
Concrete Rose was my most highly anticipated release of 2021, and it came out this week, on the 12th of January. I read it right away because I just didn’t want to wait a second longer and I’m so glad that I did because this was everything I hoped it would be and more. Besides just being a very good book, I think it’s also a very important read as it tackles some very pervasive stereotypes about young black men. Let’s get into it!
This novel is a prequel to Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give, in which we know Maverick as the father of the main character, Starr Carter. In Concrete Rose, we follow him at (roughly) Starr’s age, trying to live his life in Garden Heights. I really loved Maverick in The Hate U Give, so I was excited to learn about his back story in this new novel, and I have to say that I came to love him even more. I became entirely invested in his story as he tries to navigate life as a father, a son, a high school student and a member of a gang. As you might be able to imagine: that’s not an easy life. I was rooting for him the entire time, even when he made decisions that might not seem like the right ones.
That’s the thing about this book, though. On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss Maverick’s life as a teen father and gang member as being a string of bad decisions. It’s what a lot of people do when they hear about people like Maverick in neighbourhoods like Garden Heights. However, that dismissal comes from a place of privilege. If you do not know what it’s like to grow up in Maverick’s circumstances, it’s easy to say that people get themselves in trouble by making certain choices. It’s not as simple as that, though, and that’s what Concrete Rose shows us. It shows us what it’s like to be a young black man who is more or less born into a gang, and who doesn’t have the opportunities other people are born into.
More than that, it humanises the young black male experience; it shows us a young black man experiencing grief, anger, unconditional love, joy, and so many more emotions any human being goes through. We need stories like that, because black men are up against terrible stereotypes. As Angie Thomas herself says in this interview:
“We see so many instances now where black men and black boys aren’t humanised. They’re killed because they’re seen more as threats, as things that go bump in the night, and not as full human beings. And as an author, I understand the importance of what I do and how it can help shape perspectives and change bias.”
She also says: “I try to look at the whys and show the people rather than the issues or the stereotypes.” That’s why she deliberately chose to show Maverick when he’s vulnerable and show him when he’s crying. He’s a human being and he has the same feelings as all the rest of us do. Obviously.
We’ve established the urgent and important subject matter, but this book is also just beautifully crafted. The writing is entirely immersive and the pacing of the plot is just right. Sometimes we skip a few weeks or even months ahead, but it always feels natural and as a logical continuation of the plot. There’s also a continuous sense of suspense. I was always afraid that something bad was going to happen to Maverick in the next couple of pages, which goes to show what an incredible writer Angie Thomas is. Garden Heights is not a safe place to live, which is something Maverick is always aware of, and Angie Thomas transmits that feeling of uncertainty and danger through her writing in a very subtle yet unmistakable way.
Because this is a prequel, I already knew how Maverick was going to end up, but that only added to my reading experience. It ensured that I already cared for him as a character, and that I kept recognising other characters that also pop up in The Hate U Give. In turn, this story provided context and background for events and relationships in The Hate U Give, and while reading Concrete Rose I got the urge to reread The Hate U Give, which I immediately started doing.
All in all, I loved his book with my whole heart. It’s a beautifully written novel about an incredible character, and it’s also such an important read. I urge everyone to pick it up!
I do want to quickly address the elephant in the room here: I am not black, which means that I am not the perfect person to talk about the issues this book addresses. I wanted to link some own voices reviews, but I haven’t found them yet since the book has only come out so recently. I’m definitely planning on reading the own voices reviews that are still to come for this book, though, and I urge you to do the same, if you’re interested in the novel. As a white person, I think it’s important to listen and learn.