The young but grown up guy looking indifferently at us through that cover asks us questions through that stare: Are you going to treat me any different than you would a white person? Do you have expectations of me? Do you accept me for who I am? Do you accept others for who they are? If you have problems in your life, are you gonna own up to them or run away like a coward? I stare at that man, and I want to salute him.
The prequel to The Hate U Give, we meet Starr’s father, Maverick Carter, when he was 17, in the year 1998, coincidentally the year I was born, a fact that has nothing to do with this book whatsoever. He’s just beginning twelfth grade, but doesn’t really have plans to go past college. He’s a very close friend and ally of the main drug dealer on the streets, young King, and he’s pretty adapted in the field despite the fact his ma Frey and on-again off-again girlfriend Lisa have no idea. Maverick’s father, Adonis, was the ruler of the streets for a very long time but is now serving a sentence of forty to life, which isn’t a prison sentence. It’s a death order. The rep his father left behind earns Mav the nickname L’il Don.
Well, gears will end up having to shift when we learn a bit of a backstory. Many reasons are around for why Mav and Lisa struggle to make their relationship work. Lisa’s mother and brother Carlos are the absolute worst at being welcoming to him. Months ago, when they broke up, shortly after Mav decided to make out with Iesha, a girl known for banging a fair collection of guys. Well, the condom he was wearing broke, and a disastrous trip to the clinic leaves Maverick with a three-month old baby boy, just after Lisa got back together with him. His own ma is not the gentlest on the subject, either. Never mind how it was a mistake and Mav was sad about being dumped. The kid is his responsibility now when he’s still a kid himself.
I will admit, the book takes a little bit to get fully into. Rightfully so, Mav talks and thinks with streetsmart slang. I got used to it a quarter of the way in, at least. There’s also the case with there being a lot of diaper humour at the start. (Though it’s probably realistic. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that freshly born babies have bowels that batter up what flows through them.) Once it’s settled down and we realize just how rough it is for Maverick, now in charge of a baby in the same occupation that eventually got his own dad in the slammer, with the girl he loves not talking to him. I actually spoke to my mother about what it was like raising me, and she said I was a bit of work just like other babies, and thanks to the support she had from my father, her brother, her parents, grandparents and close friends, she never felt postpartum depression and never felt she couldn’t handle being a mother. The teen section doesn’t discuss parenthood very much, making me even more grateful Angie Thomas, the author of my favourite book of all time, is telling a story that will prepare those of various ages about the realities of the biggest responsibility of all time; raising a kid.
A subject the book brings up is masculinity and how men, especially teenage boys, aren’t expected to cry. Not only is it what the world expects of Maverick, but the owner of the grocery store Mr. Wyatt, ends up talking to him at one point about how some people see black men as individuals without emotions, making it easier to not think badly of them when they are wronged. I call BS. Concrete Rose is Angie Thomas’ first time with a male protagonist, and just like Starr and Bri from The Hate U Give and On The Come Up, Maverick goes through emotional torture that no one would be tough in under the circumstances. The book brings up but doesn’t blast in our face the fact that sometimes, everyone, male and female, needs to have a good cry.
Another thing; Something that just kills me in this world is how much punishment is aimed towards those who deal drugs. The hefty sentences they get are clearly acts of cruelty against blacks. In The Hate U Give, we understand why Khalil was in the business; to care for his sick mother. Here the subject is vastly magnified. Maverick may not have been prepared to handle a child, but he does everything he can. He sacrifices his adolescence and accepts the fact he has to grow up. He tries to leave the drug dealing life and start making money in less risky fashion at Mr. Wyatt’s store, but not only is it very little, it isn’t enough. He has to sell his video games and his stereo and plenty of things he grew up with to care for the baby, and expenses are still rough, with no support money from Lisa’s family.
A question I want every person who reads this book and is not in Maverick’s sort of situation to ask themselves and others is this: If you were in Mav’s position, what would you do? Would you be strong enough to stay in school and at your tiny-wage job, with an expensive baby and having to sell all your favourite things to make ends meet and with everyone beating you up? Or would you return to drug dealing, making hundreds of easier dollars you really need? Would making that kind of money be the right thing for your child and family? Or is drug dealing just the wrong thing to do, period? Would you be able to stand above it if you had Maverick’s reputation as a cheater and crime lord, or try to punish those wronging you for something they think you are but aren’t? I want everyone not down on their luck to imagine how strong they themselves really are. Cause truth be told, I’m not completely sure I am. Some people say drug dealers are lowlifes who were too lazy or defiant to get an honest job like they did, but I truly think most people who say that were never in a sitch like the one here. Ever. If stories like this were taught in schools, we would end up with a more empathic generation, so it won’t surprise me if it never is. I want many more stories told and known in the world, showing that if the law doesn’t care about people’s feelings and stories like this, then the law should change.
Concrete Rose is a stellar book. One criticism is there are some times when Maverick and Lisa aren’t talking to each other, and then out of the blue she wants him back, and there could’ve been more time for Maverick to think about if he wanted to see her immediately. Not a lot of thought goes into if Maverick is still angry at her or not, cause Lisa says some pretty hurtful stuff in this book. But, criticism over now. It is not just another entertaining and important enlightenment of slum life from master storyteller Angie Thomas. It is also one of the best stories about parenthood ever written. Admittedly, I haven’t read much of the subject to compare to, but I know it will be hard to top this one for me. It is a book about hardships people end up in every day, it is about what it truly means to be a man, and maybe most importantly, it is about how it’s essential to appreciate, support and applaud when people work hard to do the right thing and how damaging and ahem, hateful it is, to ignore and continue condemning them for wrongs they are trying to make up for.