Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

“Anger is a gift. Remember that.” She stood. “You gotta grasp onto it, hold it tight and use it as ammunition. You use that anger to get things done instead of just stewing in it.”

– Mark Oshiro, “Anger is a Gift”

Review:

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro opens with our main character Moss Jeffries on the city buss with his best friend, Esperanza. A cute guy on the bus, Javier, unexpectedly flirts with Moss and asks for his number. Before things can get too serious, though, cops arrive and cause Moss to have a panic attack. Six years ago, Moss’s father was killed by a police officer, and ever since, unexpected encounters with the police throw Moss into flashbacks.

But Moss is about to have even more of a cause for alarm. Moss has always known that his school is “rougher” than Esperanza’s. He has seen as his classmates are all treated increasingly like criminals. Now, the school has a contract with the local police department. Locker searches now occur at random and without probable cause. The local police department has been instructed to act first and ask questions later. This leads to several misunderstandings and incidents. Metal detectors are on their way, rush order.

Naturally, the students are indignant. Moss’s mother used to be an organizer and an activist, before her husband was killed. She knows a thing or two about protesting, and by extension, so does Moss. The students decide to use social media to mobilize and organize to push back. But tragedy is about to strike.

In order to truly enjoy this book, I did have to suspend my belief at times. I felt that things escalated in a manner that didn’t feel realistic. Some events felt exaggerated for shock value, which is unfortunate considering there is so much reality to draw from that exaggeration winds up lessening the impact of Oshiro’s point. It’s clear that action writing is Oshiro’s stronger suit, because the passages that are calmer, with more dialogue or interaction that isn’t framed around the protest, falls flat. I also was not as impressed with the ending as I hoped to be, but I didn’t exactly hate it.

Oshiro does manage to create a diverse cast of characters without feeling like any characters are simply tokens. There are also a great deal of intersectional identities. Moss is black and gay. Esperanza is Latina, adopted by well-off white parents, and is a lesbian. Javier is an immigrant and gay. Reg is disabled and biromantic. There are actually few named characters who are not queer, and nearly every character is a person of color. If I didn’t teach in a public school, I would also feel like that’s suspending disbelief a little bit, but seeing so many of this rising generation explore and claim their identities and live their truth, I am no longer so quick to doubt the realism of such a cast of queer characters.

This book isn’t perfect. There are better written books about police violence out there, but that does not mean that this book is not important. I’ve read quite a few books in this emerging genre. None of them have featured a queer lead character and few have had a more powerful plot twist. So, I encourage you to give this book a try. Know that some things aren’t perfectly executed, but that the overall message is worth both that and the length of this book.

“It’s an insidious thing,” Wanda said. “It never happens overnight. This kind of thing crept into our community a long time ago. It latched on. It fed on prejudice. Selfishness. Peoples inability to see life through someone else’s eyes. And it grew, bigger and bigger, until we got to a point where some people don’t even question why a cop should be allowed to shoot first and ask questions later.”

– Mark Oshiro, “Anger is a Gift”

Pros:

  • a plot twist that will rip you apart
  • timely and engaging concept
  • characters you’ll fall in love with
  • character motivations and growth are well woven within the narrative
  • out and proud black, gay main character
  • diverse cast without feeling like tokenism is at play

Cons:

  • some school and police actions are not entirely accurate to reality; escalation and punitive measures occur more quickly in the book than they likely would in real life
  • scenes between action moments can drag
  • book is longer than necessary

Rating:

  • ⭐⭐⭐

“It’s like they can’t avoid it,” said Kaisha. “We were literally there to protest against them using deadly force, so they responded with … deadly force. Incredible.”

– Mark Oshiro, “Anger is a Gift”

Recommended For:

  • those interested in how conflict with police escalates
  • supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement
  • supporters of immigrant rights
  • those looking for strong, queer and disabled characters

Books to Read if You Loved Anger is a Gift:

Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)

  • What kind of message does it send to students to have metal detectors and a strong police presence in their school?
  • How do we as individuals stand up against large organizations like school systems, police departments, and even our own government?
  • Who is responsible for writing an injustice?

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