Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas is the third novel from this brilliant chronicler of young, urban black experience. Having previously tackled institutional racism and stereotyping, here she turns her gimlet eye on the complexities of black manhood. In this prequel to her outstanding debut novel, The Hate U Give, Thomas presents us with a morally conflicted young man named Mav. Firmly entrenched in gang life, an unexpectedly early fatherhood shocks the 17-year-old into reconsidering life’s priorities. Maybe it’s time for this self-confessed ‘drug-dealing, gangbanging, high-school flunk out’ to go straight.
Fans will remember the character of Maverick Carter, father to the inspirational Starr, and worldly possessor of a hard-bitten wisdom. Here, Thomas turns the clock back to his naive teenage years, before the arrival of Starr, but three months after the birth of his son, who is practically dumped on him by the traumatised mother. When she subsequently goes AWOL, it is left to Mav to assume the role of carer and provider, a role that may or may not be compatible with Mav’s sideline in handling gang initiations, recruitment and selling weed.
Concrete Rose is yet another blazingly astute novel from Angie Thomas, a writer whose gift for natural dialogue is surely unparalleled in contemporary YA literature. She unpicks Mav’s vacillation in the light of his male role models, among them his jailbird father, the cousin who urges him to ‘ break the cycle…be better than us,’ and the friend who casually reminds him that success as a drug dealer means he’ll be making more money ‘than the teachers.’
There are brutal and painful times ahead for Mav, that he’ll come to liken to a boulder on his back. Men, he thinks, ‘…are supposed to be strong enough to carry our boulders and everybody else’s.’
Thomas writes with perspicacity, passion, and a hefty dose of humour to counterbalance the dark moments. She’s an exceptional writer and I’m impatient to see where her novelist’s gaze alights next.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas is published by Walker Books, 336 pages.