Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro, tells the story of Moss Jefferies, a black Latinx teen, and his activism against police brutality at his high school. Traumatized by the murder of his father by a police officer during his childhood, Moss learns to stand up against draconian security measures in his school. He draws on his anger at an unjust system, even as tragedy unfolds. The book covers a lot of ground, examining racial discrimination, systemic racism, police brutality, activism, mental health and more.
The book does a good job of outlining how systemic oppression works in Oakland, affecting people of colour in their schools, in their communities, and in their interactions with police. Particularly interesting to me was how Moss's high school resembled a prison in so many respects. This included the use of police officers, metal detectors, and violence at the school, but also more subtly with how students were treated by their administration. Students were not given any voice in what happens in their school and too often decisions were made without their input or their best interests in mind. I would be curious how many students of colour in my school system feel similarly.
Another high point of this novel is the diversity of the cast. In addition to many characters of colour, there is good representation of LGBTQ identities, including lesbian, gay, transgender, agender, and ace characters. Moss himself is gay and the first half of the book covers his developing relationship with Javiar. Unlike other books, where Moss's identity would entail some struggle for acceptance from himself, his family, or peers, in this novel Moss's identity is well established and widely accepted. This is important, since it offers a portrayal of LGBTQ characters where they aren't othered, but are normalized instead. This is vital for improving representation in YA literature.
Spoiler Warning - Significant spoilers ahead
That being said, the book is not perfect. Javiar is murdered at Moss's school by a police officer half way through the book while protecting Moss. Importantly, the character had no real reason to be at the school in the first place, and it comes across as a plot device to spur Moss to take stronger action. Killing off a gay character to motivate the main character falls into some tired tropes, which is unfortunate. As well, the author could take the advice of "show, don't tell," as Moss receives a few too many expository lectures from adult characters (which maybe was further emphasized by the audiobook version I was using).
In any case, Anger is a Gift offers a good examination of how systemic racism affects communities and how people can stand up and fight back. I would recommend it for teens and older middle grade readers.