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“Anger is a gift. Remember that…You gotta grasp on to it, hold it tight and use it as ammunition. You use that anger to get things done instead of just stewing in it.”
This is an incredibly powerful novel about resilience in the face of adversity and loss. It is about community. It is about taking a stand against the system of oppression, even if it seems hopeless. This is an incredibly difficult read, but it is such an important read. The Bay Area, and Oakland especially, has a long history of activism and holding the police accountable yet there is a long documented history of police brutality there. This novel shines a light on what it is like to be a person of color in Oakland. Compton. Chicago. And countless other cities around the United States.
Anger is a Gift follows sixteen year old Moss and his diverse group of friends at the start of their junior year at West Oakland High School – a dilapidated school that the system may as well have forgotten about. Peeling paint, missing ceiling tiles, not enough books to go around; funding having been restricted due to low test scores, a choice that has doomed the students to an endless cycle. Even the College Fair proves to reinforce the self-fulfilling prophesy these disenfranchised kids cannot achieve success and better their positionality. Juxtaposed against any of the other area high schools, the kids at West Oakland High have the deck stacked against them.
“You know, sometimes it does feel like we’re in one of those trendy dystopian novels. Except a lot less white.”
This is a contemporary dystopian, except that this is currently happening across the country. It begins with random locker searches, but things quickly escalate. The kids decide to organize, to execute their first amendment rights. Reading the events unfold felt like reading the news; crippling to the injustices in the world and feeling almost powerless to stop it. And as we have become all too aware of, the media’s role in shaping the narrative of public discourse helps to continue the system of disenfranchisement.
I appreciated Esperanza’s character a lot. She is Hispanic but having been adopted by well-off, well educated white parents in the posher neighborhood of Piedmont, circumstances that all afforded her privilege that she was not aware of. The journey that she takes, in witnessing the differing realities that she and her best friend Moss inhabit due to the circumstances of their homes firsthand was incredibly powerful for me, and added a layer of complexity to the narrative. She learns how to be a better ally, and as a result so did I.
The novel was a bit slow to start, but I think that pacing was important as the reader gets to know the characters and the system of oppression that they live in. I came to care deeply for them, and that made the novel all the more powerful as the narrative progressed and things escalated. In addition to exploring issues of race, this novel also delves into gender and sexual identity with gay, nonbinary, queer, and trans characters.
cw: police brutality, violence, death, loss of a parent, discrimination and racial profiling, racism, religious intolerance
This is a love poem to those activists that stand up for what is right and a rallying call to action for those on the sidelines. It also provides context on how to be an ally in a masterful manner. I recognize my privilege and my positionality in this society, and I’m not going to pretend I understand or can relate to POC’s suffering to even the slightest degree. But I will stand by you, because I do understand that our justice system is UNjust and NEEDS to be transformed. I cannot recommend this book enough both to everyone. Just bring the tissues; I haven’t cried this much since The Fault in Our Stars.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. You can find information about my rating criteria here.