By Katherine Arthaud, Contributor
As daffodil and crocus shoots push up through the mud in the places we walk and live, we may tend to forget that some blooms push up through pavement. Angie Thomas is an American young adult author, probably best known for her novel, The Hate U Give. Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Thomas grew up near the home of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and claims that in 1963 her mother heard the gunshot that killed him. At the tender age of six, Thomas herself witnessed a shootout. The next day, her mother walked her down to the local library to show her that “there was more to the world than what she saw that day.” This, says Thomas, is what inspired her to take up writing. Initially, she wanted to write fantasy novels, but worried that they wouldn’t make enough of a difference in a world that badly needs changing. She began working on The Hate U Give. When she was in college, a teacher read the manuscript-in-progress and encouraged her, telling Thomas that her novel could give a voice to those who had been silenced and tell stories that hadn’t been told. Meanwhile, the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown prompted Thomas to keep working on her book. She cites rapper Tupac Shakur as a major influence, with the way his music manages to trigger a range of emotions—she says she aspires to do the same. The title, The Hate U Give, was inspired by Tupac’s THUG LIFE tattoo, supposedly an acronym for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody”—which Thomas takes to mean “what society feeds into youth has a way of coming back and affecting us all.” In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Thomas said she aspires to show truth and tear down stereotypes in her writing. She feels that it’s important for the white community to listen to what the Black Lives Matter movement is saying to the world. Writing, she believes, is a form of activism. “If nothing else, books give us a glimpse into lives that we may not have known about before; they can promote empathy.” She is aware that The Hate U Give is an “issue” book, but she didn’t necessarily want it to be that way. “I wanted to make something that is so political seem personal.”
Concrete Rose is Thomas’ fourth young adult novel, delving into the backstory of Maverick Carter, who we meet in The Hate U Give as Starr’s dad. It takes place seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give. In it, we find Maverick, son of a former gang legend, dealing drugs for his father’s gang. But don’t be too quick to judge. Given the context, there aren’t a whole lot of other viable choices for him. His family badly needs money. His father is in prison, his mother works two jobs to make ends meet, and there still isn’t near enough to get by. But things are humming along relatively smoothly at the beginning of the book (if dealing drugs for the King Lords can in any way be considered things humming smoothly) until the moment Maverick learns that he’s going to be a father. The news stops him in his tracks, and things get complicated quick.
I am a big fan of this book. For me, it brilliantly accomplishes what Thomas was talking about when she said that she aspires to inspire empathy and give the world a glimpse into lives that we wouldn’t otherwise know much about. Concrete Rose functions as a kind of portal, into a world many of us are unlikely ever to see or experience ourselves. The characters are believable and relatable even though they live in a world that is so unlike the world of many of Thomas’ readers. There is a place in the novel where Maverick is talking about falling asleep in his US history class. “It was boring anyway. I’m tired of hearing ‘bout all these fucked-up white people who did fucked-up stuff, yet people wanna call them heroes. (The teacher) talked ‘bout how Columbus discovered America, and all I could think was how the hell can you ‘discover’ a place where people already lived? … Funny how that work.”
On Shakespeare, Maverick comments, “His stories the bomb. Romeo and Juliet was basically on some gang shit. You could say she was a Queen Lord, and he was a GD (Garden Disciple). They went out on their own terms like some straight-up Gs.”
The dialog in this book is excellent. I loved the characters. And I feel I have been positively affected by what this book has to say about love and honor and pushing through impossible adversity with integrity and discernment.
And here is the priceless epigraph: “For all the roses growing in concrete. Keep blossoming.”
I will leave you with that.