REVIEW: ‘Concrete Rose’ is Angie Thomas’s Best

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Concrete Rose - But Why Tho?

Concrete Rose is the latest of Angie Thomas’s books set in Garden Heights. It is a prequel to The Hate U Give about Starr Carter’s father, Maverick, when he was a 17-year-old. The book is published by HarperCollins Publishers. Jenna Stempel-Lobell designs the cover, and the cover artist is Cathy Charles. The audiobook is published by HarperAudio and narrated by Dion Graham.

Like a lot of folks, I was hesitant at first. The Hate U Give was amazing and On the Come Up was quite good; a huge part of that owed to the powerful writing of women as their central characters and the journies those teenage girls go on. A book about a 17-year-old boy and the father of a character I already loved and whom I had no attachment to himself? I was skeptical. But almost immediately, my cynism was whipped away by what may be Thomas’s best book yet.

Maverick Carter is a high school senior who doesn’t particularly want much to do with the King Lords, the gang he inherited from his father, who ran it before he was sent to prison. But his best friends are in the gang too, and his cousin Dre, and they look out for him with his dad locked up. Not to mention the extra cash he and his ride or die King make selling drugs. But Maverick’s whole world turns upsidedown when he finds out that he accidentally got Aisha, King’s on and off girlfriend, pregnant. He has to tell his parents, his girlfriend Lisa, and the world because as soon as the baby is born, Aisha abandons him to Maverick for months on end with no contact.

Explaining much more of the plot would instantly reveal spoilers, but it’s a story much in the style Thomas has become famous for. At its core, it is a story about a teenager who endures hardships and tragedies that may be common in Garden Heights, but that Maverick must learn how to cope with and navigate in a way more healthy and more mature than his brethren to not only survive but thrive. It’s also a story that expertly never apologizes for the world as it is, as it believes its characters are victims of their circumstances, but rather demonstrates a world as it can be with the love and support of family and community.

Whether you are familiar with Concrete Rose‘s characters from The Hate U Give or not, it’s like starting fresh in this book. Each familiar character has the same overall shape as before, but they were never the main characters, so Maverick, King, Lisa, Aisha, and others are now even more fully-realized and more than hold up their own story.

But what really does it for this book is its themes. It’s not too subtle, but the entire book is about love, responsibility, and the dismantling of toxic masculinities in a way that comes off so, so real. There is more than enough misogyny and internalized heteronormativity that one can hardly blame Maverick for beginning the story as he does while feeling deeply satisfied by the person he becomes by its end. But it doesn’t just do so through a straightforward path, saying one way of thinking is right and another way is wrong. It shows why people have developed the worldviews they hold and never judges or blames them for it while also exposing Maverick, and the reader, to several more dynamic ways of understanding its themes.

The greatest examples of these subversions of love, responsibility, and masculinity would be too great spoilers to share, but the way that Maverick reorients his entire life to become a father while also remembering that he himself is a son and a cousin and a friend is indelible and firmly places Concrete Rose as one of the best stories about the dissolution of toxic masculinities that I have read.

The audiobook version of Concrete Rose is also one of the best readings of an audiobook I have listened to. Not only does Graham perfectly narrate the book as it is written in the dialect and accent of a Black teenager in the 90s, but the utter emotion that he puts into every sentence is breathtaking. I cannot over-exaggerate how every laugh, cry, or even just mundane emotions Maverick feels or describes made me feel. His narration feels more like a personal account by the narrator than any audiobook I have heard, adding an entire additional layer to the emotional gravity. A major motif in Concrete Rose is that Maverick is raised and cultured to believe that Black men don’t feel emotions, and Graham’s reading perfectly captures the way Maverick fights against that firmly rooted assumption.

Concrete Rose is possibly Angie Thomas’s best book yet, masterfully telling the story of a boy becoming a man and learning that Black men can and do, in fact, feel. It should be absolutely required reading for all men of Maverick’s age, and everyone else for that matter, regardless of whether you have read The Hate U Give or not. It’s its own independent story with the single best audiobook performance I have listened to.

Concrete Rose is available now wherever books are sold.

Concrete Rose
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TL;DR

Concrete Rose is possibly Angie Thomas’s best book yet, masterfully telling the story of a boy becoming a man and learning that Black men can and do, in fact, feel. It should be absolutely required reading for all men of Maverick’s age, and everyone else for that matter, regardless of whether you have read The Hate U Give or not. It’s its own independent story with the single best audiobook performance I have listened to.