Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro Book Review

“Just shut up and hold still.” That’s what the protagonist says to his new boyfriend he meets on a train before he leans forward and kisses him for the first time. I guess you could call that either aggressive or cute. You’d have to read what happens before to know that it’s simply cute.

Anger is a Gift stars a coloured teen named Moss Jeffries Jr. He’s an uncloseted gay kid who is still fighting the ghost of his dad who was shot by cops as he was leaving a convenience store just a few blocks from his West Oakland house, and the murder was a complete accident (says those in charge). It has been five years, but still, whenever someone recognizes him and asks him about the death of his father, there’s a big chance he’ll have a panic attack. He lives with his mama, Wanda, and he has some terrific friends, including a lesbian girl named Esperanza that he’s known for years and lives with some spoiled white adoptive parents. There’s also Reg, a disabled kid, a Muslim girl named Rawiya, and others like Njemile, Shauna and Keisha. It’s now the start of a new semester at West Oakland High, and the funding is simply nonexistent. Most of the lockers don’t close on their own; Moss has to use a bike lock instead. There are dripping stains on the roofs, the copies of their English books are so roughed up that Keisha instead sends the class a link to the book online to pirate it instead, and there is a shoddy young white security guard named Officer Hull helping the principal harrass kids during randomized (yeah, right) inspections.

The only good thing is Moss met a cute guy named Javier Perez on the train home, a guy who sadly doesn’t go to his school but is also gay and also lives with an accepting mother. When there’s a random inspection that goes awry, the next day the principal announces not only excuses for why the event was not the fault of the officer who acted before any explanation could be conjured, but new rules to let the students be treated like terrorists even more…and get away with it. Moss and his friends want to try to have a say in this, to stop it. How they don’t know. They know that the best way to make a difference is to get a wide audience, but a wide audience that is made in secret, and that is tremendously hard, especially when they’re worried people will never listen to some kids and won’t care about extra security rules at the local hooligan school. But they start trying, and the fight of their young lives commences.

You want to know something about the message the title sends? If you ask me, a lot of high-ranking people would disagree on that logic. There are people and situations in life where if people want to show the emotions they are really feeling, they’ll be seen as crazy and not sane and not worth taking seriously. Some people ask for a 24-hour rule, to wait a day after seeing a grade before responding in order to dilute any anger that may stem. This title spits in the face of all of that. And how does it do that? It puts our teenage heroes in a dilemma that makes you think: “…Yeah, maybe I had it easy when I was mad about that one thing.” The synopsis I gave makes it sound like there’s corruption at the high school, and that is sweet and slimy enough, but what starts out as a relatively unfair tirade of events catapults into an annihilating disaster. And wow, I could never find time to put it down.

What makes a book climb its stairs into our minds and hearts is the ability to craft an event that makes us gasp, think, and remember the experience of reading it. Anger is a Gift has about 20 of these instances. Just typing this review reminded me of how many times I had to keep convincing myself this was fiction, or else I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, of how many times I felt I would scream if I didn’t get to see these despicable authority figures end up behind bars for at least 15 years. Some more deserving than others. I also swooned quite a few times as well. Moss and Javier are two buff, sweet and fierce boys who appreciate their company. Having them around added to the amazement that I was reading.

Also, here’s a motto I learned at school a couple years ago: The revolution will not be tweeted. That’s damn right. That means a revolution cannot start by simply dropping a few bucks in GoFundMe or retweeting or signing an online petition. Real change is when people get up from their couches, make picket signs and banners, and refuse to disperse in the eyes of the law until they are promised to be taken seriously. The recent protests shown are horrifying enough, except here, just like the horrors the protestors may face in retaliation, you can’t click the pause button and shoo it away. You wouldn’t believe how many torture devices are used against these people.

You might at this point be wondering where all the journalists are supposed to be. Well, they’re part of the problem. Forget “President” Trump, this book shows the rotten core and irresponsibility of fake news. We are on the front line with these kids going up against authoritarian figures, but it’s a journalist’s goal, or should be, to find and tell the truth, and these journalists end up finding all these stupid angles to keep the people against them. And except for The Hate U Give, which is a book Anger is a Gift deserves to stand with, I’ve never read anything that displays how trapped people can feel when the people who are supposed to send out truthful messages are out to get them alongside the system.

My favourite character, surprisingly, was Wanda. Adults sometimes say stuff to her like “I can’t believe you’d support your son on this” or “Why not just make the kids actually listen to the adults in charge?” And she smacks them right back with all her wit. She is an advocate for human rights that has been burned and eviscerated with a plethora of scars yet still wants to help her son and his friends. There’s a realization about her that made me shed a tear. And she’s a mother that does certainly care for her son’s safety, but is also proud of him like a family should be when he tries to be compassionate and fight the descending river. If more people had parents like Wanda, less people would grow up jerks.

I’ll lastly say this: It was around the 300-page mark, and there is another big twist that made me so angry, I actually started shaking, like it was minus 70 out. I wanted to find something, anything, that I could do to help in whatever situation I could, whilst making sure I didn’t screw it all up. I wanted to be right alongside the characters, especially Moss, in their darkest time, not just to pity them but to stand with them and somehow help. Rarely do I ever read a book where I so wholeheartedly care about how it’s going to end as much as this one. Adam Silvera quoted the book as beautiful and brutal and that set me up for some expectations, but on the brutal side, I never would’ve imagined what actually goes down. And I refuse to spoil it. The heartache and sadness is too surreal to give away.

This book is as brave as its protagonist to not back down from brutality, alongside bold romance, brutal honesty, and best of all, the importance of love and honest journalism, two things disappearing in droves every day. Anger is a gift indeed, and so is this entire bloodthirsty book.

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