Review: Anger Is a Gift

Anger Is a Gift Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I told someone earlier today, this book broke my heart into a thousand pieces. It reminded me of so many bad stories I have heard from my Guardian ad Litem youths about their lives and their schools. From the photocopied (yes, pirated) textbooks, to being roughed up by school security who had no right or clear reason to put a hand on them, to friends shot, killed, beaten on the streets of their neighborhood. This is a story that feels as if it could be ripped from headlines that fill an era with school shootings and walkouts and people talking about schools as if they are like high-security prisons where the wardens should be armed. While some of the latter portions of the book feel more like dystopian fiction, most of it feels too close to reality for comfort.

Moss Jeffries, the sweet, warm-hearted protagonist of Anger is a Gift has witnessed and experienced utterly awful things in his short life and he is only a high school student. His PTSD from the death of his father and his panic attacks are shown to us from the first moments of this book. The fact that he experiences a good fraction of the horror in his own school, West Oakland High, a place where children and young adults ought to feel safe, is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of all. Moss lost his father to a police shooting in which the police shot him as he was emerging from a neighborhood grocery store with ice cream, right in front of Moss. (Wrong place, wrong time, wrong guy but hey, he was black...) Over the course of this book, he sees friends and loved ones brutalized and even murdered at the hands of several hateful police officers, while good officers try, mostly without success, to prevent or mitigate the trainwreck that is his school's contracted security program with the Oakland Police Department.

Anger is a Gift sets you down in the life of a young man who has swallowed so much bitterness and anger, yet he remains caring and kind. Who has endured great personal loss again and sadly, again. At one point, two-thirds of the way through the book, I was reminded of that quote from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh:

“A blow... falling upon a bruise... a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne.”

At this point in the book, I literally had to set it aside for a few hours, and take a break. Thankfully, when I picked the book back up hours later, Moss finds a use for his anger and loss- as fuel for his quest for justice. (I have to say, having seen youths who have suffered this kind of trauma, Moss's turnaround time was rather swift.) When he's had enough, he's had enough.

I'm not sure that some of the more dystopian elements (for example military-grade equipment installed in schools) of this book are doing it any favors but, no matter what, this book, which ranks up there with Angie Thomas' "The Hate U Give," is going to be controversial. Between its openly LGBTQ friendly characters, its portrayal of police violence on minors (and adults), its take on the growing prison-like feel in schools that have metal detectors, armed resource officers, and the frightening trend of viewing students engaging in civil protests like walkouts as rioters, this book is a compelling, visceral read that is going to provoke strong emotions in its readers. I hope it gives people some insight into what children and youth face in their schools and contemplate the challenge of learning in such an environment. And then there is the whole aspect of living your life in a community in which the color of your skin is likely to get you killed for no reason. To be young, male, and of color puts one at terrible risk simply walking or driving down the street in some communities. That's a fact. Pure and simple and inexcusable.

I hope this book is on everyone's summer reading list.

I received a paper review copy of this book from Tor Teen and Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

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