Anger is a Gift is a book for now. Anger is a Gift (affiliate link) is a book that crystalizes what life in America is like for so many people of color, especially those living in urban areas. It is a necessary book. It’s not comfortable, nor is it comforting, but it is necessary and beautiful. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.
Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.
When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC through a friend. While reading Anger is a Gift I frequently stopped reading, pressed the open book to my face and had to sit with my feelings. At times I was elated, so full of happiness that I thought I might dance into the sky. Other times I was so angry, so frustrated that I thought I might burst into flames. And once, I had to hold back tears. Anger is a Gift is a rollercoaster of emotion.
This book has two sides. On one side, it’s a love story. It’s a sweet, fluffy book that will make your heart soar because it is about friendship and relationships and all your dreams coming true. On the flip side, this is a book about social justice, systematic injustice and what one boy and his community do in response. It’s a heavy, unflinching book that feels like a punch to the gut and filled me with so much anger.
The main character, Moss is a sweet cinnamon roll, too pure for this world. He’s a sweet kid. He’s got a wonderful relationship with his mother – it’s so full of trust and love. Throughout the book, Moss struggles with the world reacting to his blackness, his gayness and his anxiety. Anger is a Gift is told 100% from his perspective, giving readers a look at Moss’s inner monologue. He’s such a kind kid. He wants to learn, he wants to love, he wants to be loved, but he also wants a world that hasn’t ever been fair to change. He’s polite and gentle and tries his best to be a good friend and a good person. He feels powerless against a system that has increasingly treated him and anyone even remotely like him as less than. He’s suffered injustice after systematic injustice in his life and Moss has finally had enough.
The supporting characters are equally interesting. Bits, a non-binary character, is one of my favorite side characters. They’re full of wisdom and kindness and sadness. I love Bits’ story and personality. Rawiya is my second favorite. As a former punk, it’s easy to see why a punk-rock Muslim girl would steal my heart. Moss’s mother Wanda is the kind of mother I wish everyone had. She’s patient, kind, supportive and absolutely there for her son when he needs her.
The remaining supporting characters are all fantastic as well. There’s a wide rainbow of diversity in the cast: many sexualities and gender identities, races, religions and abilities. Mark writes these characters so real and so believable that anyone who calls it forced or unbelievable hasn’t read the same book I have.
The social justice elements of the book were visceral. Anger is a Gift is unflinching in its portrayal of underfunded schools, full of cracks and peeling paint and mistrust (sometimes outright hatred) of the student body by administrators and empty of empathy, school supplies and basic human rights, with the exception of a small few bright spots of light in teachers who get it.
I grew up in an agricultural town in Central Washington. My school was 50% white and it wasn’t until I graduated and moved to another part of the state, a more affluent part of the state, that I found out having a dedicated school police officer wasn’t normal. It was to me. They’d always been there. Every school I attended had one. The officer at my high school singled kids out, including my sister. He pulled her out of class at the drop of a rumor. She missed more class because of him than because of illness. It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe the world Mark’s built in Anger is a Gift. Police forces around the country are already militarized on the streets, why wouldn’t they be in schools as well?
The ending was probably the least believable part of the book. It’s not a bad ending, but it felt a little abrupt and unrealistic. But it’s a hopeful ending, and one I’m satisfied with.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Mark Reads, support him on Patreon and had the pleasure of meeting him when he went on tour for Mark Reads a couple of years ago. Anger is a Gift is very different from the excerpt he read for us then, on tour, but is absolutely the kind of book I’d expect from Mark. My one big regret is that there’s no way for Mark to do a Mark Reads reaction video of his own book since he’s already been spoiled.
Anger is a Gift is out today, and you should absolutely pick up a copy.
*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a copy from Amazon, please consider supporting this blog and purchasing via my affiliate link.