BookBrowse Reviews Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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Anger Is a Gift

by Mark Oshiro

Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro X
Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2019, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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When tensions hit a fever pitch, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

It is no secret that contemporary young adult literature has been becoming more political, addressing the real problems and challenges faced by teenagers in the United States today. Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro is a welcome addition to the contemporary YA oeuvre, taking readers inside a brutal reality that too many young people today know well. It is a narrative about intergenerational trauma, about hope, and about finding strength in one's family and community, executed in a way that will keep readers turning the page.

Moss Jeffries knows that bad things can happen. A high schooler in Oakland, California, he is still struggling to deal with the loss of his father six years prior at the hands of a policeman too quick to pull the trigger. As the violence in his community continues, Moss deals with panic attacks and self-doubt, trying to stay below the radar and enjoy the new relationship he is in – until some things change that make it impossible for him to stay quiet any longer. As the administration exerts more violence against the students at his school – an administrator attacking a black trans woman and accusing her of having drugs, and also injuring another student in a wheelchair and refusing to take responsibility for it – Moss and his peers decide that they want to push back against disciplinary methods that are essentially treating them like criminals. But things often get worse before they get better – and Moss and his friends are about to learn that, too. This novel delves into the power dynamics between systemic bias in the state and a community voice asserting its right to live without fear; it reminds us that this kind of tension cannot be simply consigned to history, but is a struggle that continues today.

The beauty of this story, beyond how Oshiro handles the raw emotion of events ripped straight from too-frequent headlines, is its diversity and representation of contemporary society. Oshiro folds many different kinds of otherness into the backdrop of Moss's world – ethnicities, religions, sexualities and genders – but does it in a way that feels natural and normal and, perhaps most importantly, not token. There isn't a need to explain these characters further or justify how or why they should be identified; they simply are. And while this is far from the "point" of this book, which brings the voices of youth of color in marginalized situations face to face with state-sanctioned brutality, it just might be its greatest strength. It presents a narrative that is not an either/or depiction of marginalizations; instead, it proves that it's not too much to offer a reader a narrative with someone going through mental health challenges – AND someone with a disability, AND someone who is gay, AND someone who is bisexual AND someone who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them as pronouns AND someone who is brown, AND someone who is undocumented. It's not too much to expect the reader to not only be able to follow the narrative, but also to develop empathy for all of these characters. Oshiro shows us as readers that this is the "normal" of Moss's life and absolutely belongs on the page. Our society is made up of complex constructions of identities, and it is time more literature reflected this, as Anger is a Gift does so well.

This novel is a timely, finely-wrought, intersectional glimpse of what has become normalized for too many people today; and illustrates how the anger that feels so impotent sometimes, can actually be the most powerful and uniting thing we have to strengthen our communities and affect change.

This review was originally published in July 2018, and has been updated for the May 2019 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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