I couldn’t help but save my current favorite author for the very last day of Black History Month. This is none other than the #1 New York Times Bestselling author, Angie Thomas. Thomas was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Before becoming an author, she was actually a teen rapper—something I found completely unsurprising when I thought about all of the references to hip-hop in her novels.
I first discovered Thomas the summer after graduating high school back in 2017. I was looking for books by young, Black authors. As an aspiring children’s book and young adult author, I set my intentions on reading books similar to the ones I’d like to write, but I want to be clear that though written for young adult audiences, Thomas’ works of fiction transcend age.
Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was one I couldn’t put down after I picked it up (as were the two that followed). This novel began from her senior project in undergrad, and after becoming a New York Times Bestseller, it was adapted into a film starring Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, and Regina Hall. As I say in most cases, the book was worlds better than the movie, though they were both truly phenomenal.
Thomas went on to release On The Come Up, in 2019, a beautiful work of fiction following the journey of a Black teen rapper. Thomas’ newest novel Concrete Rose was released this past January, and I must take a moment to sing its praises.
Set in 1998, Concrete Rose is a prequel to The Hate U Give and follows the life of seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter—a Black teen father on the brinks of flunking out of high school and struggling to find his way out of gang affiliations. And if you’ve read The Hate U Give, you know that Maverick Carter turns out alright—he’s a successful business owner with a beautiful wife and family—but this novel tells us his story.
One of the things I love about Thomas is her ability to capture the language and culture of Black people. One of my favorite moments from Concrete Rose is when after playing basketball, Maverick’s mother says to him, “Boy you ripe!” Though a simple comment, it reminded me of the way many of the Black women in my family speak, and it brought me so much joy to read it.
Thomas’ stories beautifully reflect the lives of Black people across America. After the release of Concrete Rose, I had the pleasure of joining one of her virtual book tour events via Zoom (finally, the pandemic offers something favorable). Thomas explained that in writing Concrete Rose, she wanted to humanize Black boys and show their ability and right to feel and express emotion. I was blown away by this comment, because while it may seem small, it’s a necessary expression the entire world needs to see.
Thomas is an author who makes history with every word she writes, and I’ve learned so much from reading her novels. No matter who you are or what your background may be, Thomas’ three novels are books I would encourage all people to read.