Anger Is a Gift is devastating and spectacular. This one literally took my breath away. It made me cry, but it also filled my heart right up. The fact that it did both of these things–that it was often painful to read, but that just as often, it was filled with warmth and love and tenderness–was part of what made it so powerful and so moving.
There are so many brilliant things about this book that it’s hard to know where to start. It’s a book that centers and celebrates queer youth of color–their joy in each other, the way they always have each other’s backs, their fierceness, their strong voices, their determination. Moss is a black gay teenager living in Oakland with his mom, and his group of friends, as well as his mother’s friends, and all the complicated ways they held (and sometimes hurt) each other were at the center of the novel.
The novel centers around policy brutality and the murder of black people by police–Moss’s father was shot and killed by police six years before the story beings. But, despite the terrible things happening to them and their community, nobody in this book was powerless. Moss, and his circle of friends, all had their moments of fear, anxiety, and defeat. Moss struggled with self-esteem, and often doubted that someone could love and desire him. But none of that took away from their autonomy as human beings, and the power they drew from each other, their families, the people they loved, and what they believed in. This book was painful to read. But it was also beautifully and deeply queer, and that felt like a celebration.
Something else Oshiro does so brilliantly in this novel is the way he makes it abundantly clear that he is writing about a war. In this country, people are dying. Black people are being murdered by police. Families, mostly families of color, immigrant families, and poor families, are being torn apart by police violence. White supremacy and the racism that our white supremacist society upholds and enables is killing people. Reading this book, you can feel the effects of that war, in Moss’s grief and exhaustion and anger and fear. The violence that Moss and his family face from the police, the violence the police inflict on a public school in Oakland, that they inflict on peaceful protestors–it all felt so real because it is happening, it has been happening for hundreds of years.
The novel is brilliantly plotted and tightly woven. The stakes are as high as they can go. Oshiro makes it impossible for readers to look away. For white readers like me, for people whose lives aren’t touched daily by systemic oppression and police brutality, for people whose various privileges align to allow us to look away from this war, even as we are complicit in it–this is a powerful and important novel to read. It looks hard at all the ways that whiteness enables violence. Not just the overt violence committed by the police, by the violence of silence, of well-meaning white liberals, of looking the other way, of re-centering stories. There are so many complicated layers to it. There’s so much in this novel about identity and intersectionality and community resilience, as well as racism and police brutality and youth activism.
Something else I loved about the novel was the teenage characters. All of them are so real and nuanced. They have complicated and conflicting desires. Moss and his friends were angry and hurt and powerful in a way that was felt both true to their particular experiences and also to the realities of being a teenager anywhere. It is always a joy to find YA novels with teenagers who feel just as complicated and messy and raw and alive as any adult character.
Anger Is A Gift is one of those rare books that is so important and smart, one I want to push into everyone’s hands–and also an incredibly good story, a gorgeously structured and complicated piece of art. It’s hands-down one of the best books I’ve read in 2018.
And, the ending was so damn good.
Read on for a warning about the violence in this book that includes spoilers.
I knew, going in, that a queer character was going to be murdered in this novel. I’ve learned that if a queer character is going to die in a novel, and if that death is part of what moves the plot forward, I need to know about it going in. Otherwise, I simply go numb with rage and heartbreak and exhaustion at yet another book where the queer character dies. I know most people don’t like spoilers, but the fact that I knew this going in is what allowed me to connect to the book. So, for other readers out there like me, who might need a warning about the violent death of a queer character: this book is so good and so worth reading, but be warned that it does contain the violent murder of a seventeen year old brown queer boy.