Book Review: Concrete Rose, by Angie Thomas

Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas, Walker Books Australia, 2021

From the publisher: 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.

When I was seventeen, I started university. I was younger than most of my friends, having skipped a grade in primary school. They were, most of them, eighteen and adult. I was still a kid.

And I felt it.

I felt so much younger than all of my friends, who seemed to have transitioned to adulthood with silken ease.

I still listened to the same music, read the same books, wore the same clothes, and needed my dad. Still, sometimes, I slept with my childhood teddy bear. I wanted more than anything to be a proper adult, listening to Muse and Portishead and watching Wes Anderson movies and smoking menthol cigarettes and talking about philosophy til the wee hours of the morning.

I wasn’t that person. The gap between me and them – between seventeen and eighteen – felt like an ocean.

Now, I’m not far from forty. I have a kid of my own and (don’t tell anyone), I still don’t feel like an adult. I still feel like – what idiot trusted me with a whole human being to raise? How did that happen?

Maverick Carter, in Concrete Rose, is seventeen years old. And he is a father. He is a child in the body of man, suddenly thrust into manhood and fatherhood and responsibility before he has had a chance to work out who he is or what he wants from the world. And watching him as he navigates this enormous and perilous transition is an utter joy.

We don’t get many books about young fatherhood – about what it feels like to be a kid, raising a kid. We get still fewer that feature people from marginalised communities – from communities typically associated with crime and violence – that show their struggles and triumphs with grace and empathy.

Angie Thomas is an utter genius at this genre. The character of a young, black single father, surrounded by gangs and drugs and poverty and violence could easily have become a stereotype – a person to mistrust and fear. After all, that’s what the media tries to tell us that people who live these realities are. But the truth is that, behind every one-dimensional cliché presented by the media is a three-dimensional human with hopes and dreams and worries and heartbreaks, just like all of us have. Maverick Carter is not a character to be pitied or scorned or feared. He is a proud, strong, funny, vulnerable, flawed, clever, vibrant young person, trying to be an adult in a difficult, scary world.

Just as I loved his daughter in The Hate U Give (the prequel to this story), I loved Maverick with my whole heart. I loved the characters who surrounded him. Even the “villains” are given nuance and backstory and positive traits, to counteract the negative. We see the reasons why. We see how a hurt kid becomes an adult who hurts.

I loved this book, even more than Thomas’ previous offerings. I feel like it will come to be seen as her masterwork and an important book for all young men to read, to understand that the things they are feeling are normal and they are not alone.

I can’t imagine – as that scared seventeen-year-old or as the still-scared late-thirties woman I am now – negotiating the life challenges Maverick faces. The media would paint him as a damning statistic. To me, he’s an utter hero, and a reminder that we might never truly feel like a grown-up, or like we are capable of combating the slings and arrows that life hurls at us. But we just have to, and so we do.

My kid says that I’m not a grown-up – I’m a kid in an adult’s body. I think she’s probably right. I’ll try to grow up, one day. When I do, I’ll look to people like Maverick Carter for inspiration.

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