Reevaluating the Tiny, Neat Box of Prejudice in “Concrete Rose”

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas is a triumph, and anyone who enjoyed Thomas’ The Hate U Give (2017) should read it as soon as possible. Thomas’ characters are compelling, and her plots move forward quickly, but in Concrete Rose, Thomas gives us the gift of a rarely told story — the story of a young Black man whose gang affiliation, teen parenthood, and failing grades would make him easy for many people to disregard.

Maverick Carter has been called a “fan favorite” in both the film and novel versions of The Hate U Give, and Angie Thomas has been praised widely for her previous novels. Thomas’ ability to bring a brilliant character to life on the page makes this book a joy to read. There are lessons in it for those who want or need them, but for all of us, there is a great story.

Readers familiar with The Hate U Give know the adult version of Maverick Carter. In The Hate U Give, Maverick owns the neighborhood grocery store. He’s an excellent, supportive father. He works hard and is committed to his wife and children. We know that Maverick was previously involved with gangs and that his two oldest children were born only a year apart, to different mothers. Although those facts might cause people to look at him askance, we can see that they do not detract from his success or his standing within his community.

In Concrete Rose, Thomas transports us through time for a better understanding of Maverick’s past. It’s 1998, and Maverick Carter is seventeen years old. His oldest son, Seven, is just a few months old when Iesha, Seven’s mother, drops him off with Maverick, completely transforming his life by forcing him to balance teen parenthood, school, a new job, and gang activity. Soon, Maverick is pushed to his limits by the loss of a family member and the discovery that his ex-girlfriend Lisa is also pregnant. All of these factors pile up, and he is forced to make decisions that reveal his personality.

The character development in Concrete Rose is magnificent, and the novel also undermines stereotypes with its careful linguistic choices. There’s a sense of character and place in the language, which highlights the fact that we’re getting this story from an insider. I imagine that some readers might complain about the use of slang and Black Vernacular English in the novel, but Maverick’s first person narration is particularly effective because Thomas writes him in such an honest way. Even readers who are unfamiliar with BVE conventions, like dropping “be” verbs or leaving off an “s” at the end of regular singular verbs, can easily get used to such constructions when they are swept up in Thomas’s storytelling.

Along with those language choices, Maverick’s story also serves to undermine some of the most common anti-Black stereotypes by presenting Maverick as a whole person. Maverick is innocent and funny. Maverick is struggling and scared. Maverick is a boy trying to figure out how to be a man. Maverick is Black, and he is loved, and he is loving. He takes on the challenge of being a father even though he is unprepared. He listens to the guidance of older community members. He holds a gun to someone’s head. He plays with water guns. We cannot place him into a tiny, neat box of prejudice. We get to see him in a light that popular media does not often provide for Black male characters. Each moment readers spend with Maverick chips away at the stereotypes we’ve all learned from other stories.

Concrete Rose
By Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray
Published January 12, 2021