The author's latest YA novel takes readers back to Garden Heights to tell the story of Maverick Carter, Starr's father, as a teenager

By Sam Gillette
March 30, 2020 12:00 PM
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Credit: Imani Khayyam

Angie Thomas—author of the powerful YA novel The Hate U Give that was adapted into the popular film of the same name—has written a third book, Concrete Rose.

The novel, which will be published by HarperCollins on January 12, 2021, takes readers back to Garden Heights 17 years prior to the events of The Hate U Give to tell the story of Maverick Carter, Starr’s father. Like her first novel, Thomas says she also expects Concrete Rose to be banned.

Thomas’ first book follows the inspirational and heartrending story of Starr, a young black girl pulled between her fancy prep school and her poor black neighborhood. When Starr’s childhood friend Khalil is killed by a police officer, her world and that of her community unravels as people rise up in protest. Since The Hate U Give‘s release in 2017, Thomas has received global acclaim for her honest prose that gives a voice to young black teens in America and the challenges they face.

Maverick plays a major role in The Hate U Give, and in Concrete Rose, his story takes center stage. The novel tracks Mavericks beginnings as he navigates becoming a father to Starr’s older brother, Seven, when he’s just 17. Concrete Rose is a fast-paced, moving story about what it means to be a young black man—and father— in America.

“Of all characters who really just stayed with me, Maverick was at the top of that list,” Thomas, 31, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview about the book. (See the cover below.) “And what was fascinating to me was once readers started reading The Hate U Give and then when the film came out, he was the character that I was asked about the most.”

Thomas was inspired by the stories of young men—and her hope is to inspire them in turn.

“I started talking to young real life Mavericks. Young men who are trying to still find their way and are often written off and seen as troublemakers or this or that,” she says. “They’re never seen as [having] potential, they’re only seen as being at risk. They have stories and they deserve the opportunity to not just grow, they deserve the opportunities to be seen as someone beyond their circumstances.”

Cover artist: Cathy Charles

Keep reading for more from the Angie Thomas interview (which has been edited and condensed).

What are you excited for readers to learn about Maverick and Seven’s early years?

The big thing I’m excited for readers to learn about with Maverick, specifically, is that there are things that he has done in his life that his kids don’t even know about. I know with people, it’s like, “Oh, he’s a principal. Well, what’s the point? I know that he’s going to be okay. He’s alive in The Hate U Give.” Yeah, but you don’t know what he’s done. There are so many things that he’s done, and the big shift and turns that I couldn’t mention in The Hate U Give, that I’m excited for my readers to see. I’m also excited to show this bonding between father and son… So many people assume that black kids, especially black kids in the hood, don’t have fathers. And that’s a lie. So many of them do.

Can you tell me about how your books have been received, especially by people of color?

The best part of what I do is meet young people who have read my books. Sometimes, it’s the first time they’ve seen a character like themselves… To quote Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, “Books are mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors.” And for me to give those kids that mirror, it’s an honor to do it. But it also reminds me of how important it is that I give them authentic mirrors. I’ve never want to give them a distorted view of themselves. I want them to see how amazing and wonderful and beautiful they are as they are, when the world tries to tell them they’re either too much or not enough.

Your past books explore racism, gang violence, and police brutality. Do those themes also appear in Concrete Rose?

Absolutely. A thing that I definitely touch on in the novel is the prison system and the fact that Maverick’s father is in prison. We get a glimpse into that and we get a glimpse into the issues that come with that. What it means for family, when someone who was a provider, all of a sudden he’s gone. He’s in the prison system and being used in this modern form of slavery. But I also talk a little bit about police brutality and more so about over-policing a community… Here we are, we’re looking at a community almost 20 years before The Hate U Give starts. So many of the things that are happening in The Hate U Give were happening back then. What’s going on? What is the systemic issue here that’s allowing this cycle to continue?

Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give
| Credit: ErikaDoss/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

How has your experience as a black woman in the U.S. influenced your writing?

Being a black woman in this country, it honestly fuels me even more to write my stories as authentically as possible. So often it feels as if my very humanity is challenged. And, if nothing else, that fuels me to rebelliously show through my stories just how human I am. I can honestly say that I’ve stopped code switching as much in my writing…I’ve had to adapt to the majority my entire life. You can adapt to these words and these phrases and this culture that I’m infusing into my work, in these 300, 400 or so pages. If you have to get a dictionary or something and figure it out, or [go to] Urban Dictionary to figure it out, that’s okay. But you’re going to get my true authentic story.

How did Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” influence this book as well as your previous books?

Tupac is probably one of my biggest literary influences. That kind of throws people off when I say that because they’re like, “He’s a rapper.” But he was a writer, he was a poet… There’s beauty in this whole idea of walking down the street and seeing a rose growing up out of the concrete in the sidewalk… And that’s a metaphor for what so many of our young people are—they’re roses in concrete.

The Hate U Give was banned in different schools and areas across the country. Do you expect Concrete Rose to also be banned?

I absolutely do. This is a book about a 17-year-old young man who just found out he’s a father…Nobody wants to talk about teen sex, nobody wants to talk about teen pregnancy or teen parents. But he’s amongst us every single day and it’s something that we cannot ignore. So I absolutely expect it to get banned. I am going to say it, I think it will be banned more so than The Hate U Give was. I really do. It saddens me already, but I’m expecting it. And I’m going to keep writing it and my publisher is still going to publish it. Why? Because there are young people who need this story… Your discomfort is not my problem. My concern is for those young people who need this [book].

The legacy of the Black Power Movement is woven throughout your books. How does this history empower your characters as well as the black community in the U.S.?

I would never put the responsibility of empowering the entire black race on my book, but I hope that young black people pick it up and they walk away feeling empowered. I hope they walk away with a better understanding of themselves… Also, I hope that it gives other readers a better view of what it means to be a black person in America.

I’m a firm believer that empathy is more powerful than sympathy. I would love it if somebody read my books, specifically if they read Concrete Rose, about this young black boy who is heading on the wrong path, and they got a better understanding of him. And it makes them decide to stop clutching their purse extra tight when a young black man walks by them. Now is that absolutely going to happen? Probably not. That’s some entitled stuff that they still got to deal with, but if my book can play a role in that, great. More importantly, I just want that young black man, who, when somebody does walk by him and they clutch their purse tighter, I want him to read my book. [Maybe it will make him] feel a little more seen, heard, and understood.

Concrete Rose will be published by HarperCollins on January 12, 2021.