Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas crafts the origin story of the Carter patriarch from her successful debut The Hate U Give and shows the parallels of Maverick’s teenage life in the late 1990s with his daughter Starr’s contemporary experience.

This prequel focuses on 17-year-old Maverick and his foray into unplanned parenthood amid a contentious relationship with the gang King Lords. Maverick is making amends with his girlfriend, Lisa, after a brief breakup and hanging out with his friends like gang members King and cousin Dre. But he’s keeping a secret from Lisa: He may be the father of King’s son. Maverick learns he is the father, which creates a hardship for him and his single mother and a rift between him and King. Dre is the main person Maverick can depend on since he’s also a father and preparing to marry his baby’s mother. As the big brother figure, Dre advises Maverick to get a real job at the mom-and-pops grocery instead of selling drugs. Maverick is desperate for money, but he knows his cousin is looking out for him. Then that protection disappears when Dre is shot dead in his car. Maverick is the first responder and vows to avenge his cousin’s murder. As he follows leads, Maverick is having a hard time supporting his son who he names Seven, the number he calls perfect. He has to decide if selling drugs and killing Dre’s killer is worth it when he finds out he will be a father for the second time.

As a loyal reader to Angie Thomas’ work, this novel becomes more entertaining when piecing together the timeline of seeing where Seven, Lisa, Uncle Carlos, and Starr intersect in Maverick’s life. It’s a portrait of a family who has become familiar in pages and onscreen. The author even thanks actor Russell Hornsby, who plays adult Maverick in The Hate U Give film, at the end for inspiring Maverick’s teenage story. The intersection continues with Maverick witnessing the aftermath of Dre’s murder similar to Starr witnessing the actual murder of her friend Khalil by a police officer. With Starr’s situation, we know the killer while Maverick is carrying the guilt of not knowing the killer. Maverick also finds himself alone in advocating for Dre, who falls out of the media cycle as another Black gang member murder victim unlike Starr who gets unwanted attention with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement spotlighting Khalil’s murder by police.

Angie Thomas and fellow multicultural young adult author Elizabeth Acevedo seem to be the top best-selling authors in the subgenre as evidenced in what literary agents say in Twitter pitch parties. But they both prioritize tropes among teens of color such as teen pregnancy in their novels. Though their stories show a realistic depth to the situation, this thread is becoming more common in YA literature when teen pregnancy rates are on the decline, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Concrete Rose, the author has other characters, particularly Maverick’s extended family, upset about him not having only one baby but two babies within months. Others vocalizing the disappointment sits heavy with Maverick that adds to the allure of earning more money illegally.

Overall, like its related novels in the Garden Heights universe, Concrete Rose flows with familiarity with the first-person narrative and shows a character’s true feelings about hardships associated with their surroundings.

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