Thursday, March 14, 2024

Concrete Rose: A Book That Acknowledges The Confusion Of Young Men

 Angie Thomas is probably the most powerful voice of her generation, and with ‘Concrete Rose’, the prequel to The Hate U Give (THUG), she has yet again set standards which even she will struggle to beat. This is the story of Maverick Carter- of what made him the man we came to love and admire in THUG.

One afternoon, he is a seventeen year slinging dope, old playing basketball and buying gifts for his girlfriend. A few hours later, a DNA test comes out positive and he realises that he had impregnated his best friend’s girlfriend during a one night stand when his condom slipped. The mother of the child disappears and he is stuck with a three month old baby he had no idea was his. His mother insists that he ‘man up’ and shoulder his responsibilities. He learns to change diapers and burp the baby. He moves out his music collection to make place for the crib, and sells his recorder to buy essentials for the baby. He even gives up slinging dope and takes up a minimum wage job. His girlfriend breaks up with him, the baby keeps him awake at night, he is exhausted working in the grocery store and school becomes the one place where he can catch up on his sleep.

Normally a teen pregnancy turns the mother’s life upside down, but here it is the father who bears the brunt of it (though he had no say in whether or not the pregnancy should be continued). Though he had never been particularly ambitious, Maverick sees even the few dreams he had disappear. He sees no escape from a deary future where he will be bagging groceries all his life. Angie Thomas does a remarkable job of getting into the psyche of the teenage father, and talking about how much damage the ‘men don’t cry’ myth does to young black men.

The book also talks about how few options are available to young black men growing up in black communities. Of how they are forced to align with the gangs in order to survive and of how they lack positive role models who might inspire them to do better. Maverick believes that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”; since his father was an important member of a gang, he will have to join it too. It is only at the end of the book that he understands what his employer and mentor meant when he said that “while an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, it can roll away if kicked at the appropriate time.”

One wonders how realistic Maverick’s mother’s character is. You admire how she teaches her son to be primary parent, but you also wonder how many women would have compelled their son to take on the responsibility instead of trying to return the child to the mother. Clearly she wants her son to be a better father than her husband had been, and this creates interesting dynamics between the two. There is another emotional part where she admits to her son that she is in a lesbian relationship with someone her son thought was her ‘friend’. He wonders why he feels betrayed by his mother, and also thinks of how his jailbird father is the only one to lose out completely.

Apart from his relationship with his mother, Maverick is in two other important and complex parent- child relationships- with his father who he starts to question, and with his baby son who he loves unconditionally. Each of the relationships is deeply nuanced, making the entire book a delight to read.

While there are many fabulous books written for young adults, there are not many that address the issues faced by young men. ‘Concrete Rose’ does a wonderful job of acknowledging the confusion faced by young men, especially those arising due to changing gender dynamics, and this book will certainly provide a counter to the toxicity spewed by Andrew Tate and other such proponents of the manosphere. While Maverick’s situation may not be universal, his confusion certainly is, which makes this a must read for young men.

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