“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?” –Tupac Shakur, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”
In 2017, Angie Thomas made her debut with her bestselling novel The Hate U Give (THUG), introducing readers to Starr Carter. This year, Thomas shines the spotlight on Maverick Carter, Starr’s father, in Concrete Rose. The novel is set 17 years before the events of THUG and follows a 17-year-old Maverick, whose life has been relatively under control – until he learns he’s a father. Now, Maverick must learn to carefully balance every aspect of his life as they threaten to collapse.
From the get-go, Thomas establishes the tone, setting, and most of the relationships Maverick has with others. The book reads as if Maverick is a real-life person sharing his story. We learn about many of the significant relationships in Maverick’s life and the role each of them holds. He relays the hierarchy within the King Lords, explaining how being part of them creates a deep sense of loyalty and responsibility. He understands the sense of family (albeit a dysfunctional one) that comes with being a King Lord, but he’s also torn: Mav can continue dealing for the King Lords and earn enough money to help support his mother and his son, or he can get out of the King Lords and become the man he hopes to be for his son but face the consequences of breaking his bond with the King Lords. What may seem like the ideal option is not always the best one, and Thomas does an excellent job carrying that idea through the novel. She also establishes the importance of Mav’s blood relations – his son, his parents, and his cousin, who’s more of a brother. Each person offers a glimpse into the different traits that make up Maverick without taking away from his uniqueness.
Two other important relationships Maverick has is with Iesha, his son’s mother, and Lisa, his girlfriend. It’s interesting to see the dynamic Mav has with each of them play out and how his strong sense of loyalty extends beyond the King Lords. Both young ladies force Maverick to think more compassionately, especially with Iesha, as he begins to realize what a major responsibility caring for an infant is. Regardless of being pushed into adulthood, Maverick is still a teenage boy, and, thankfully, that doesn’t get lost in the story. We’re still able to see Maverick hold on to his youth, despite having to grow up.
Thomas wastes no time covering the hard-hitting topics that populate Maverick’s life. She writes about teen parenthood and the specific experience of Black teen parents, family, grief, poverty, and racism. Throughout the story, each of these aspects remains interconnected. Most prominent, of course, is teen parenthood, going hand-in-hand with poverty and how it invades Mav’s life. Thomas showcases not only the financial effects of having a baby but highlights that, regardless of how hard Maverick and his mother try to make ends meet, everything seems set up against them (and Black and brown communities in general), something Maverick himself points out. Maverick’s heavy grief from a loss also pulls him in several directions as he tries to honor the wishes of the person while being acutely aware of how that loss presents a great challenge.
Thomas continues to include the pervasiveness of racism, however, in this book, it appears in less overt ways than THUG (but still just as important). Thomas emphasizes how racism reveals itself (in this book, specifically) as a white person responding nervously when Maverick sits near them or the deeply ingrained fear of what could happen if Maverick gets pulled over. She draws more awareness to Black history erased from textbooks. Thomas underscores how racism is prevalent in even the most subtle ways.
Concrete Rose, while a prequel, stands on its own – it’s not necessary to read THUG beforehand, but it does help with context. (There are also a couple of great non-THUG references.) Thomas takes just as much expert care writing Maverick in Concrete Rose as she does in THUG, reminding readers why Maverick is so endearing. The rest of her characters are well thought out and receive just as much attention whether they appear on one page or 100. Thomas weaves a poignant, tender, and powerful story exploring the unique experience of Black teen parenthood, manhood, and the fight to survive with the means available. She creates an emotional, incredibly human story filled with hope.
“Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.” –Tupac Shakur, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”
Concrete Rose is now available online and at your local bookstore. Purchase a copy here.