Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
As I'm thinking about this book a few weeks after reading it, I'm wondering why I gave it four stars instead of five. And, honestly, I can't think of why. I absolutely adored this book and Maverick, well, the YA version of Maverick anyway. He had me laughing, crying, and rooting for him the whole way. While this is a prequel to The Hate U Give, I have no problem saying you don't need to read it. Although, if you plan to, there might be some minor spoilers for you later. Angie Thomas takes us back seventeen years, when Maverick and King were hooping it up in front of pretty girls, selling a little on the side to help his mom and buy some new kicks, and although life wasn't perfect, it wasn't too bad either. Garden Heights feels like it hasn't changed a bit. The King Lords and Garden Disciples still run the streets, Mr. Wyatt's store is the place to get your snack on, and the old men of the Heights are bigger gossips than the women. Maverick and Lisa are together, but it might not be for long. He just found out that he's the proud new daddy of a three-month-old baby from a one night stand. Once it's confirmed he is the son, the baby's mom Iesha thrusts the baby at Mav, who is now a single daddy. Well, his mom does help (goodness, she is FREAKING FANTASTIC). But she's not about to let Mav off easy and be the sole caretaker. His cousin Dre is a higher up in the King Lords and makes sure that Maverick sells the light stuff. He notices that Mav is sporting new shoes and giving his girlfriend Lisa expensive necklaces. There's no way he's making enough money to be doing that, and he's right. He and his best friend, King, are slinging on the side. It helps out his mom (his Pops is in jail) and keeps him looking tight. But Dre, a father himself, isn't about to let him off that easy, especially now that he's got a son to take care of. Begrudgingly, Maverick takes a job at Mr. Wyatt's store and promises to stop the side dealing, even though he needs the money more than ever. Juggling high school, sleepless nights, Mr. Wyatt's impossible standards, and the temptation of earning extra money is hard. Like really, really hard. This was when I was rooting for Maverick the most. I knew he could do it. He has the support system in place; he just doesn't recognize all the players. And he is trying. But when someone close to him is shot in his driveway, things take a turn. All he can think about is the code of the street. You shoot one of mine, and we shoot one of yours. The tugs of his family responsibility keep him in line, but not always.
There is so much more to this book, but I'd spend another four pages retelling it when you can just read it. What you do need to know is how freaking amazing Angie Thomas is at writing BELIEVABLE dialogue and dialect. There were zero times when I felt like the teens (the YA) of this book weren't doing exactly what I thought they'd do or say. Maverick's relationships with King, his mom, dad, Lisa, Iesha, Mr. Wyatt, and Dre are all complicated and fleshed out, leaving very few unanswered questions or a lack of understanding regarding a character's motivations. But what she does best, in my opinion, is her characterization of Maverick. He is a single dad (with another on the way) throughout this entire book and kills it. He's loving, attentive, and precisely the kind of mess one would expect him to be. But he does it with a twinkle in his eye; it might dim at times, but it's there.
"I wipe his face for the fifty-leventh time. I'm tryna feed him this jar of pureed peas and carrots with a li’l applesauce mixed in like Mrs. Wyatt taught me. This boy here...he shake his head to dodge the spoon with his lips shut tight. When I do sneak some in his mouth, he spit it right out. There's splatters of green and orange mush everywhere.
C'mon, man," I groan. I know peas and carrots not the best, but give me a break, a'ight? Dada had a rough day."
"Da-da-da-da-da!" he repeat. He first said it on Christmas. Best gift I ever got, for real.
As he saying "Da-da," I put a spoonful of food in his mouth.
This boy look right at me, and I swear to God he spit it dead in my face.
Don't let the cuteness fool you. Babies straight-up thugs. They don't give a damn what you going through."
Outside of being a dad, Maverick lives by the street's code and the King Lords until he decides that's no longer an option for him. This decision isn't one made lightly as it has serious repercussions. The adults in his life are superstars, just like the adults are in THUG, and help Maverick with some tough decisions. Lisa and his mom are his biggest cheerleaders, but it takes a lot of hits before Maverick starts to believe in himself. But when he does, watch out world. Big Mav is on his way. As with her previous books, I've listened to this one. Bahni Turpin has the honor of reading THUG and On the Come Up, and Dion Graham slays this audio as Mav. Kills it. Read it, listen to it- I don't care. Just don't forget about it.