Contemporary · YA

Anger is a Gift – Mark Oshiro

5 Stars

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.


Cover from Goodreads


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.


Three Parts Dead – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

Three Parts Dead

Every time I read one of Max’s Craft Sequence books, I am in awe of the scale of things. He works with things as complex and nebulous as faith and economies but then turns around and hides Gods in the details. And on both scales he has so much going on around the everyday(ish) lives of the main characters. The Craft Sequence is a fascinating examination of power, morality, justice and so many other part of our lives wrapped up into a gripping murder mystery complete with epic romance and subterfuge. Oh, and did I mention the main character is a black woman and most of the main cast is fantastically written women?

three parts dead

Cover from Goodreads

In order to motivate myself and justify a reread of The Craft Sequence, I am teaming up with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni for a buddy read! We started with Three Parts Dead, the first of the series to be published, but the third book chronologically within the series.

For the first part of our discussion, check out the post on Marzie’s Reads at Fair warning, our discussion is *FULL* of spoilers.

Here’s part two, picking up right where we left off!

Alex: I want to talk about Elayne a bit more. Throughout the book, it becomes clearer and clearer that Denovo is the worst kind of abuser, one that is enabled and even encouraged to continue and refine his abuses. Both Tara and Elayne are victims of his abuse, and Elayne was his first victim. I really loved the twist at the end, when she got her revenge. But how did you feel about how that was handled.

Marzie: The ending, where Denovo gets his just desserts, is wonderful. And so perfect for this moment, where #metoo is everywhere. This is so much the way things go when abuses are reported, and especially when abuse is reported by women against men. Maybe we’re on the cusp of change, but when Three Parts Dead released, women were still in the thick of things with respect to this type of behavior- men abusing women in the work or academic setting. All that said, the handling of Tara’s accusations against Denovo at the Hidden Schools is pretty galling.

Alex: I loved the ending so much. I was furious at the school too.

Jenni: The ending was extremely satisfying. And I found the school’s complicity infuriating – although to me, what really struck me was how they allowed their ends to justify Denovo’s means. His abuse resulted in a phenomenally powerful source of Craft, and that was more important to the School than the way in which he was generating it. They cared more for destroying the Gods than they cared about the well-being of their students.

Marzie: Does Alexander Denovo in the end seem less human and humane than Kos, who wants his Seril back? I’m still seared by the image of Denovo cutting out Seril’s eyes. So awful.

Alex: I agree with you there, I think there’s a massive failure on Denovo’s part to have any humanity. Kos is certainly more compassionate and motivated by emotion rather than the acquisition of power. Kos and Seril were lovers, they had been separated by man, by Craftsmen. The Gods are much like the gods of different pantheons we’re already familiar with – the Greek Gods loved and hated and warred. The Craftsmen were so obsessed with destroying the gods that they didn’t care that they were destroying the WORLD, so what chance did Tara or Elayne have in convincing The Hidden Schools that Denovo’s craft was doing harm, and it was harm enough for them to care about stopping.

Jenni: I agree that the primary issue was Denovo’s utter lack of humanity. It stood in such stark contrast to Kos. Not that Kos wasn’t godly, but that his emotions made him seem more humane than Denovo, an actual human. He was a much more fundamentally decent being than Denovo, and seemed warmer than the Craftspeople; emotions do not automatically equal human.

Alex: I think it was deliberate, pitting a loving Kos against the unloving Denovo. I think the idea is that despite being a god, Kos was more human-seeming than Denovo who WANTED to be a god.

Marzie: If we are talking about Denovo’s lack of humanity, can we discuss what is up is with the Hidden Schools allowing him to teach and devastate their student population? How is that sustainable? To me, Denovo is shackling potential competition. He’s stripping the world of any potential competitors for his God-dom.

Alex: I think you’re absolutely correct that the school was allowing Denovo to shackle and hamstring his competition in pretty much every sense of the word. It’s Horrifying.

Marzie: My big question is why?

Jenni: I think it’s because they are just potential when they’re students. They may or may not be able to significantly advance the School’s goals after having years of intensive training. If Denovo harnesses them and bleeds them dry, yes, some of them that would have become great Craftspeople will not be as useful as they could have been otherwise, but on average, it probably works out as a win for the school. They’ve got a guaranteed return on all the warm bodies, and don’t have to worry about independent thinking.

Marzie: I mean why is the school allowing it? It will destroy the school. This is my one problem with the Denovo plot. Denovo isn’t running the entire school, is he? In an amusingly modern day nightmare, he is a narcissist. But that doesn’t explain what is going on in the school and how it is permitted to continue.

Alex: Yes, there’s other faculty. But who’s to say he doesn’t have them in the same thrall he has his students in? And to be fair, lots of companies know about corruption and let it happen rather than address and fix it because in the end, the corruption is lucrative.

Jenni: Exactly, Alex.

Marzie: I guess I feel it is the sole weak spot in the plot. Denovo destroying the student body with the knowledge of the Hidden Schools and Craft firms around the world makes little sense to me, as ultimately it will finish the school, and deplete the pool of potential craftsmen and women for the workforce.

Alex I agree that it’s a weak spot. I think this might be something to ask Max about in a Q&A sometime. 😉

Jenni: But was it the entire student body? Or just select ones? And also – if Craftspeople are as long-lived as the story suggests, then they don’t need a particularly rapid replacement rate.

Marzie: I think it was the most talented students? In which case, still unchecked, the Denovo plan destroys the Hidden Schools, and ultimately depletes Craft workforce. Craft workers aren’t bulletproof… I think they can be killed. I have to say that I would LOVE to see one of the future books set in the Hidden Schools themselves, so we can get a feel for what has been going on over the past century or so.

Alex: Okay, final thoughts. The Craft Sequence is one of my favorite series, and Three Parts Dead is an incredible introduction to the world. Gladstone takes complex concepts and mashes them all together and the result is a stunning universe with interesting characters.

Marzie: I can say without hesitation that Max Gladstone’s Craft world is one of the most unique concepts I’ve encountered in fantasy. It’s brilliant, savvy, and finds ways to poke at our modern culture and values from the vantage point of a far removed fantasy world. Kudos!

Jenni: It’s been a long time since I read a book I felt had something new to add to the fantasy genre. This book certainly manages to do that, and packages its new concepts in wonderfully fluid prose and well-drawn characters, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one!

Join us next month for our reviews and discussions of the second book in The Craft Sequence, Two Serpents Rise!