Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro

26 Oct
Illustrated cover for _Anger is a Gift_, with a young Black man facing away from the viewer and into the streets and buildings and smoggy pavements of a city. The seal of the Schneider Family Book Award is off to the side, and below that, "A beautiful and brutal debut" quote by Adam Sivera (author of, _They both die at the end_)

I bought this book on release, intending to read it soon after, and then life (and the world) got in the way.

Reader beware: this is a very hard book to read, because the line between fiction and reality is blurred. The cover quote that calls it “beautiful and brutal” is on the money. It is a story of love and loss and survival, of systemic racism and the routine police violence that kills hundreds of Black and Brown people in the U.S. every year.

Hundreds. Every year.

To say nothing of the many more people they wound every year, often leaving them disabled for life.

All with impunity.

Also, the protagonist is a gay teenage boy, with queer friends of all flavors, so if you have a problem with young people who do not fit a cis hetero binary, don’t bother reading further.

Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro

This book has two blurbs, one for the print and digital editions, and one for the audiobook. Even though I read the digital edition, I’ve added the blurb for the audiobook because I feel it’s closer to the reading experience:

A story of resilience and loss, love and family, Mark Oshiro’s Anger Is a Gift testifies to the vulnerability and strength of a community living within a system of oppression.

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 in their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and the 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.

Moss is a normal sixteen year old, in the sense that he’s dealing with all the issues inherent to being a teenager–awakening sexuality, taking the first tentative steps into a potential romantic relationship, coping with body image and other insecurities.

But Moses is also a Black teenage boy, living in a community of working class and working poor people, subject to under-funding in all aspects of civil life, such as education and community services, and over policing in every area of his daily life, including school.

He’s a child, surrounded by other children, trying to grow up and learn and find joy in a world that does its best to dehumanize and beat and kill them, every day.

Moss’s closest community is loving and lovely; his blood family consists only of his mother, but they have a chosen family that’s protective, accepting, and helpful, without strings.

One of the things that make this novel hard to read is the hopeful and joyful and loving moments interspersed with the reality of being part of a racialized minority in a system built on racism, and knowing this is not fiction for millions of people in the U.S.

Like Moss himself realizes:

“…he cried because his word was split. He’d been cursed by violence and loss. He’d been blessed with love and support. He couldn’t separate them, and he had to learn to live with both.”

(end of chapter 8)

The world Moss lives in is very diverse, in every way: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender presentation, you name it. The one unifying aspect is struggle, over money and racism and apathy and the brutality of the system.

To this day, Oakland is hell for a lot of Black and Brown working class people, and the novel does not spare the reader, the same way reality doesn’t spare children and teens. Shrinking budgets for education in poor areas, justified every year by the cuts made the year before, while blaming the student body and their families, as a few teachers keep trying to keep a sinking boat afloat.

Part of me regrets not having read Anger is a Gift sooner, because the writing is so good, but I don’t know I could have read it before in the same way. Oshiro doesn’t relish the violence in Moss’s world, but they don’t shy away from addressing the most egregious, and sadly common, form of it: police presence in public schools.

The white administrators who consider themselves decent people, because whiteness is nothing if not self-deluded and self-forgiving, while serving Black and Brown children up as prey to ‘school resource’ cops, themselves always present, always menacing. None of these are tropes, but a very real and present threat for millions of U.S. Black and Brown children.

I mentioned above that Moss is a normal teenage boy. There’s a sweet story of him falling in love that is brutally cut short by the system.

Anger is a Gift does not have a happy ending; there is no magical wish-fulfillment fantasy of a righted universe. Its triumph comes from not giving in to the pressure to forgive and forget, but to remember instead–some grudges must be held, if there’s to be any justice in the world.

This book must have been both cathartic and incredibly hard to write; it’s hard to read it today and know that not only have things not improved for children like Moss, but they seem to be worse now than they were when it came out.

Anger is a Gift gets 9.50 out of 10.

* * * *

In case you are curious, here’s the blurb for the print and digital editions:

Moss Jeffries is many things—considerate student, devoted son, loyal friend and affectionate boyfriend, enthusiastic nerd.

But sometimes Moss still wishes he could be someone else—someone without panic attacks, someone whose father was still alive, someone who hadn’t become a rallying point for a community because of one horrible night.

And most of all, he wishes he didn’t feel so stuck.

Moss can’t even escape at school—he and his friends are subject to the lack of funds and crumbling infrastructure at West Oakland High, as well as constant intimidation by the resource officer stationed in their halls. That was even before the new regulations—it seems sometimes that the students are treated more like criminals.

Something will have to change—but who will listen to a group of teens?

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes again, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

4 Responses to “Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro”

  1. willaful 26/10/2022 at 4:36 PM #

    Too close to my nightmares…. 😦

    • azteclady 26/10/2022 at 4:47 PM #

      Yes.

      I said on twitter that I had trouble sleeping after reading it, and it’s no hyperbole: my jaw was so tight it hurt, and my whole body so tense I couldn’t fall asleep.

      It’s still a very well written book, and an important one, but one has to know and be in the right place to read it.

      (I wasn’t, to be honest, but there you go)

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