Book Review – Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Pages: 256
Published: 9th January 2021
Genre: Young Adult
Trigger warnings: Racism, sexual references, drugs

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.

There are not many books released over the past decade that define a genre quite like The Hate U Give, something so meaningful and relevant yet also full of characters that are brought to life so vividly on the page. This prequel evokes the same spirit but provides a coming of age story of a different kind; one that is powerful and moving in its own right.

With a distinctively informal writing style that is both unique and rather fitting, it is some ways a family drama but mostly an honest portrayal of how to survive in an impoverished community beset with 1990s gang warfare, and making the right choices. All of it centres on Maverick Carter, a character immersed in all of those things as a teenager and having to find the correct path despite some tragic incidents and lapses in judgment along the way.

Maverick is seventeen and with father – a former high ranking gang member – in prison, is drug dealing on behalf of the King Lords to support his family. It is the only way he knows how. He is in a blossoming relationship with Lisa, but then everything changes when it turns out that he is a father – a DNA test confirms that his best friend King’s three-month old son is actually his.

The bombshell causes Lisa to break up with Maverick, who is then thrown in the deep end when he is left alone to look after his baby son, whom he eventually names Seven. With parenting responsibilities now taking over his life, Maverick chooses to stop selling drugs and take a job with his hard but fair neighbour Mr Wyatt, who runs a gardening store.

However, he is unable to walk away from gang life completely and is left desperate for revenge after a loved one is shot dead. This all happens while struggling with the demands of looking after Seven and being resigned to failure at school, meaning that his future hangs in the balance. He is faced with many life-defining choices and will do anything to get Lisa back, but the question is whether Maverick can learn from his mistakes and find the right purpose in his life.

This can so easily be read as a standalone, but for anyone who has read The Hate U Give there is lots to love here, such as neat little references or just experiencing the formative years of characters who you came to really connect with as adults. The messages are very clear and although it is set in 1998, a lot of readers will find Maverick’s situation and story quite relatable.

It is extremely character driven and Maverick goes through several life-changing events along the way, including one moment that acts as a tragic and sudden twist. Seeing him thrown in the deep end and have to adapt to becoming a father was entertaining and while certain things happen as a result of his own bad choices, you cannot help but feel on his side most of the time.

The only criticism of the plot is that at times it resembled something of a soap opera, what with all the teenage pregnancies that occur and the fluctuating relationship between Maverick and Lisa, but equally it was all great fun to read. Later on in the book Maverick faces the most defining choice of all, which really ramps up the tension and is ultimately handled extremely well with a fantastic payoff at the end.

Everything is written in the first person from Maverick’s perspective, and quite literally too as rather than standard prose we get his own idiolect. The words are on the page as if he is speaking them, so very informal and full of individuality, and even allowing for the use of slang terms it is still easy to read and works absolutely perfectly in the context of the book. In doing so, Maverick is given all the authenticity that makes him such a good protagonist.

The Maverick we know from The Hate U Give is wise yet commanding; street smart with a bit of a swagger about him. Here we see him quite naïve and impulsive, often failing to consider the consequences of his actions, but through all of that he means well and is easy to connect with. He can be frustrating but is also endearing, and his development is clear to see by the end of the novel, especially as he comes to understand his responsibilities.

It was also fascinating to see Lisa as a teenager, even if she brought few surprises – very sensible and mature but not averse to the occasional lapse. Her brother Carlos was much more unlike the person he would become, unwavering in his disapproval of Maverick. Meanwhile, one of the most startling moments was when Iyesha abandons the baby with Maverick and refuses to take care of him for months, which automatically made her unlikable.

Characters such as King and Red represent an impactful and unforgiving portrayal of being part of a gang, and how hard it is to escape, both finding themselves tied to it without much prospect of a brighter future. This is sad, and despite being revered on the streets Maverick’s father is paying the price for that. The relationship Maverick has with him is compelling, but I enjoyed the ones he shared with his mother and Mr Wyatt rather more, as you can see how much he hates to disappoint them.

The juxtaposition between settings is not as pronounced as in The Hate U Give, but there is still a clear contrast between Maverick’s neighbourhood and the one where Lisa lives, and at times you can feel the toxic undercurrent of racial prejudice. The ongoing gang wars mean that anyone can be shot dead at any moment, so danger is always present. And then there is the fact it is set in 1998, with Maverick’s assertion that CDs will be around forever proving sadly misguided.

What is so good about the writing is that it brings out the characters so well, particularly here as we get so used to Maverick, his speech patterns and how his mind ticks. This combines well with the many meaningful statements and passages, along with the odd injection of humour. A lot of that takes place during the lighter moments between Maverick and Lisa, and even if you know the outcome you are still rooting for them.

Overall, this is a fabulous prequel that tells a powerful story and envelops you in the lives of characters who are brilliantly drawn and likeable for all of their flaws. More than anyone, it belongs to Maverick and his perspective along with the author’s choice of writing style, turns out to be a masterstroke. It may not be as trailblazing as The Hate U Give, but it is full of the things which made that so successful.

A very enjoyable read, which perfectly shows Angie Thomas’ special skill of mixing fantastic characterisation and occasional light-heartedness with the utmost poignancy. Maverick’s story was great to read.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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