77 pages 2 hours read

Mark Oshiro

Anger Is a Gift

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Mark Oshiro’s 2018 debut novel Anger Is a Gift is a work of contemporary fiction for young adults exploring the realities of police brutality and racist oppression people of color experience in America. This study guide uses the 2018 edition published by Tor (ISBN: 978-1-250-16702-6). Oshiro is a queer author of color, and this novel seeks to highlight the racial divide in America. He shows through this book that there is no universal American experience, rather one’s ability to take advantage of distinctly American experiences is filtered through the mediated lens of one’s socio-cultural affinity, and different affinities have access to different expressions of power and dissent.

Written during the Trump presidency and a rise in the Black Lives Matter movement, Anger Is a Gift offers young readers a means to conceptualize their American experience and illuminate others’, as well as a lens through which to understand the various privileges (or, conversely, lack of agency) offered by their affinity groups.

Plot Summary

Moss is a gay Black teenager living in West Oakland. He struggles daily with the trauma of witnessing his father’s murder by police officers six years earlier in a case of mistaken identity. As he battles panic attacks and heightened anxiety, he is supported by his mother, Wanda, and his close friendship group of queer and marginalized teenagers, especially his best friend Esperanza, a Puerto Rican immigrant with white adoptive parents. 

While traveling back from the mall with Esperanza, Moss meets Javier, a gay Latino undocumented immigrant, and the two hit it off; they exchange numbers despite Moss having a panic attack at the train station when confronted with a demonstration against police brutality. Moss’s feelings become even more insurmountable when he starts his sophomore year at his dilapidated, underfunded high school. He learns that the school has brought in harsh security measures allowing the police officer assigned to the school to perform random locker searches.

Things quickly escalate at the school when Shawna, a young trans girl from Moss’s English class, is assaulted by the officer when he finds her medication in her locker and believes it to be drugs. The students react angrily to this incident, and the school responds by allowing the police department to install metal detectors at the entrance. Moss’s friend Reg refuses to go through the detector, concerned that it will agitate the pins placed in his leg after a car accident left him reliant on crutches and a wheelchair. When a police officer forces him through, the magnets pin him to the detector, exacerbating his injury so much that he will likely never walk again.

Moss’s friends are keen to organize a meeting to respond to the incident. Moss reluctantly agrees but is skeptical that it will achieve anything, having seen the movement to get justice for his father fizzle out years before. However, he starts to warm to the idea, eventually proposing that the students stage a walk-out in protest of their treatment. Wanda helps them organize a large community meeting. Javier attends the meetings and he and Moss grow closer despite Moss’s fear that he does not deserve love.

When the day of the walk-out comes, Moss and the others are horrified to find riot police stationed at the school; they realize administration must have been tipped off about the protest. Refusing to be intimidated, they go ahead with the protest, and the police react violently, using a number of brutal crowd control weapons on the students. Javier and his friends have snuck onto campus to support the protest, but tragedy strikes when a police officer named Daley shoots Javier, killing him.

Moss is devastated, reliving the trauma of his father’s murder and struggling to cope with another terrible loss. Throughout the lead up to the murder, Moss has started to recognize that Esperanza, who attends a far better funded and largely white school thanks to her rich white parents, does not really understand the reality faced by her poorer, more marginalized friends. Things come to a head when Esperanza’s mother reveals that she had informed the school principal about the protest, ignorantly believing that she was helping.

Moss blames Esperanza’s mother and is furious with Esperanza herself. He cycles off on his own in a fury and eventually chains himself to a flagpole outside a police building in protest of Javier’s murder. His protest soon captures people’s imaginations and hundreds join him in solidarity. The police react with extreme violence, savagely beating demonstrators and accidentally killing a white girl with a tear gas canister.

Many of the protestors are arrested, including Moss, Wanda, and Esperanza, who finally realizes the reality of police brutality. She apologizes for her ignorance and for doubting Moss’s experiences. In what is arguably a PR stunt to make up for the negative coverage the police received following their treatment of students, Javier’s murder, and especially the killing of a white person at the protest, Moss and Wanda are released and offered an official apology at a press conference the next day. Daley is present and apologizes for murdering Javier, expecting to simply be forgiven. Moss, Wanda, and Javier’s mother decline his apology, refusing to enable a system that allows the police to carry on murdering people of color with impunity.  

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