I wasn’t ready for this damn book.
My first exposure to Mark Oshiro actually happened because a mutual Patron suggested that Mark read The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 1 on their Mark Reads Stuff YouTube channel. I admit I feel a little special because, technically, they had heard of me before I heard of them. Which, take that, traditional publishing!
Anyway, they seem to have been enjoying themselves, and watching them read my book has been fun as hell, so I figured there was a good chance I’d like their work as well, and in that spirit I just finished their debut novel, Anger Is a Gift.
And it has kicked my ass. I made a terrible mistake last night while reading in bed; at one point I looked over at my wife (who is reading Harrow the Ninth right now) and said “This book is trying to lull me into a false sense of security. I don’t trust optimism any more. Something terrible is about to happen.”
And like ten minutes later I was so angry I could barely breathe, and any thought of sleep within the next hour or so at the least was banished. Not angry at the book, mind you, although I did come very close to tossing it across the room. Angry on behalf of Moss Jeffries, the book’s main character.
As the events of the book begin, Moss has been without his father for a few years. His father was shot by a police officer while leaving a local corner store with headphones on and hands filled with groceries. He attends high school in Oakland, CA, at a school that has recently begun a policy where students can be pulled from class, at any time, by school police officers to search their lockers. As it turns out, the cop in question already does not exactly have the rest of the student body’s trust, and this policy goes badly.
Which leads to metal detectors at the door. Which goes badly.
Which leads to the students planning a walk-out as protest. Which goes very badly.
I’m not going to spoil any more; suffice it to say that protest and police brutality and loss are strong themes of this book, and it begins with a handful of content warnings that maybe I should have taken a bit more seriously myself, because reading this book as a teacher of Black and Brown children in 2020 was very, very difficult. These kids are failed by nearly every adult in their lives– Moss’ mother is wonderful, as is his boyfriend Javier’s mother, but the school personnel and even some of the other parents are benignly neglectful at best and actively harmful at worst, and I spent as much time angry with school personnel as I did with the actions of the police.
I will admit that there were a few moments where I had thoughts of the Would they REALLY … type, mostly relating to various actions the police take regarding the protesters, and … honestly, there’s no excuse to be thinking something like that in 2020. Even if this was mildly unrealistic when it was released in 2018, it’s just not any longer. It’s impossible to have watched the actions of the police across the country this year with your eyes open and declare anything to be beyond them.
That quote on the cover of the book declares it to be “beautiful and brutal.” And … yeah. That’s a really good description of the book. Anger is a Gift was a hard book to read, but absolutely well worth it, and I think you will hear about it again at the end of the year.