Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Tor Teen, 2018, 463 pages
Trigger Warnings: Murder/death, graphic violence, police brutality, racism, loss of a parent, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia, ableism, anxiety and panic attacks
About the Author: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where they analyze books and TV series. Their debut novel, Anger Is a Gift, was a recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award for 2019. Their lifelong goal is to pet every dog in the world. (Bio provided by Saraciea Fennel and Anneliese Merz from TorTeen.)
Twitter: @MarkDoesStuffWebsite: www.markoshiro.com
Anger is a Gift released on May 22, 2018, five years after the founding of the Black Live Matter movement and at a time when protests really began to blossom across the country. Two years since its initial release and the only thing that’s changed is that even more people have been killed at the hands of police officers. According to The Washington Post, 990 people died due to police violence. Based upon their database named “Fatal Force” which is a compilation of police caused deaths, 1,018 people have been murdered by police in 2020, as of September 10th. Recently I picked this book up in the wake of daily protests and death brought on by police violence. Frankly, I was unprepared for how intense this novel is. It is a novel about resistance, solidarity, and hope in spite of the devastation one may face and it’s definitely a novel that reminded me why we should never stop fighting.
Mark Oshiro’s debut novel follows Moss Jeffries, a Black gay teen, who must grapple with the debilitating trauma he carries with him from the murder of his father by police, just six years prior to the events of the story. When Moss returns to school, for his sophomore year, he finds that it is a completely new place with new rules and new conditions. In a school where books and supplies are limited and tattered the students must also deal with random locker searches, and the intimidation of police officers who lurk through the halls. After metal detectors are installed and incidents that involve police harming students occur Moss and his classmates unite to push back against the school administration and the Oakland Police Department. Even when faced with incredibly difficult tasks Moss and his friends rise above all of the discrimination and pain.
The novel is told from Moss’ point of view and he is a character who is kind, gentle and considerate of everyone around him. He tries to lead a normal life but he cannot completely confront his grief and anger that wells inside him. He was only 10 years old when he lost his father which is an all too real reality for so many Black and brown children whose parents are racially profiled or otherwise taken too soon by gun violence. This book does not shy away from anything and I respect Oshiro so much for that. This novel includes discussions about a multitude of topics including body image, transracial adoption, white passivity, the white savior, immigration, and the kind of gas lighting that Black and brown people constantly deal with. The teens in this novel take charge and their parents support the activism that they all take part in. In Anger is a Gift Moss develops a relationship with Javier, a Latinx/Guatemalan boy he meets on the train, which is so pure and sweet because they each try to navigate their first relationship together.
Moss’ mother is one of the most fantastic parental figures I’ve read in YA. So rarely do we get supportive, active parents in novels directed at teens that her characterization was quite refreshing. The loss of Moss’ father brought about a bond between them that shines. Moss’ mom, Wanda, uplifts her son’s efforts by inciting a collective effort from the wider Oakland community that is heartfelt, especially noting her years of activist work. Not only is Moss backed by his mother but he is surrounded by a group of wonderfully diverse friends and side characters (which was again so refreshing). I love Kaisha, Rawiya, Njimile, Bits, Reg, and Javier who make up a great cast of characters who are present for more than just diversity points and it shows immensely. Oftentimes I feel as though each one of these characters would be tokenized in another novel but in Anger is a Gift Oshiro allows for them to be highlighted and be a part of the narrative in valuable ways. I especially love how most of the characters are queer. We get to read about Black and brown characters who are ace/asexual, disabled, biromantic, trans, non-binary, lesbian and bisexual all in one book which is AMAZING.
Speaking of my personal experience I went to a school where I feared the police walking through the halls. Passing by an officer on the way to class brought me anxiety and I had to quell that anxiety through the four years of high school because it was just normal to feel unsafe at school. It became normal to fear the police and keep my head down. I even remember the class set of books that were taped together and with the will of my English teachers my classmates and I made due every time. I commend Oshiro for showcasing these kinds of experiences and empowering their readers to demand accountability. This was a book I read with sweat dripping down my forehead and back as tears came down my face. I so desperately wanted Moss and Javier and all of the characters who were brutalized to just make it. I wanted their happy ending. However, true to reality, things don’t always work out how you desire. People get hurt and even die, the police officers don’t see a courtroom, and it feels like the pain is never ending. But despite all the damage Oshiro makes clear that the community that comes with being a part of a movement bigger than yourself is rewarding because it leads to change. The most valuable takeaways I got from this novel are that we all must foster communities that consist of love, we must fight so everyone has the human rights they deserve and we must all check our personal privileges so we can work towards demolishing systemic racism and oppression. We can all be activists, this is a call to action, let your anger fuel you because, as Mark Oshiro so beautifully puts it, anger is a gift!
PRR Writer, Jackie Balbastro