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 by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and 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.
This was both a beautiful and painful read, and my heart hurts thinking about it. Please be aware that, as a trigger warning, there are scenes of police brutality, as well as descriptions of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. This is also an own voices book, as Mark Oshiro is a queer and Latinx man.
Moss Jefferies was ten when he saw his father murdered by a police officer. Not only did he have to deal with the trauma of the experience, but with the attention from the media and refusal from the Oakland police to take responsibility for their mistake. Six years later, everyone in the area who lived there when the shooting took place recognizes Moss’s face.
As he begins his second year of high school as a sophomore, the school ups their security measures to unreasonable heights. Random locker searches. The installation of metal detectors. When these measures lead to unacceptable things happening, Moss and his friends decide to organize against the administration. Soon, they find themselves fighting against more than just the administration, but the brutal Oakland Police Department and, of course, the media.
Anger is a gift. Remember that. You gotta grasp on to it, hold it tight and use it as ammunition. You use that anger to get things done instead of just stewing in it.
The cast of characters were amazingly diverse. Moss himself is black and gay, his best friend is an adopted lesbian with Latinx heritage, and they have friends who are queer, such as transgender, nonbinary, and asexual. Their story lines weren’t just to be queer—they had their own strengths and lives. There was also a boy, Reg, who is disabled, and a girl who is Muslim and wears a hijab.
They were so open, accepting, and supporting of each other. However, I found it too good to be true that there could be a group of LGBTQIA+ teenagers without having to face any discrimination from their peers, and I wonder if it would have been more realistic to have minor incidents included to give justice to what many queer people have to face.
Still, I think it was refreshing to read a book where queer characters did not have to face this constant struggle, and could do what they wanted and be LGBTQIA+ as well. Moss has a love interest in this book, and I… really did love Javier and Moss together!
Unfortunately, I wanted more from Moss. I did love the accurate portrayal of anxiety that he struggled with, and I understand that he went through what no one should have to. Because of that, I can overlook some of his behavior, and it adds to the story that no one is perfect all the time. But I did not like his relationship with his best friend, Esperanza. At the beginning of the book, I thought they made great best friends. As the story continued, however, Moss seemed to step on her and did not appreciate her as he should have.
I believe this stems from the fact that while Esperanza is Latinx, she was adopted by white parents. She also goes to a different, better, school. Her parents are scientists. Moss goes on about how privileged she is because of her parents and how she cannot possibly understand what he and the other students go through. Yes, Esperanza does come from a wealthier family, but she spends so much time around Moss and their other friends, she herself is a person of color, and she has such a kind heart. She is the one who helps Moss when he has panic attacks, and she is always supporting him.
Moss, in return, undermines her attempts to understand and help out. It’s like the author is pouring all of his own anger towards ignorant white people and white saviors into this little girl, and it does not fit well at all. I would have been okay with seeing a character who is an example of how it’s hard for non-colored people to understand the extent of racism they have to go through, because there are people like this. But on Esperanza, it was really wrongly placed, and made me feel much less sympathy for Moss.
That is the main issue I have with this book. Apart from that, this is a great read if you want an eye opener to the racism in this world, and what “common” people face as they struggle to find justice for their loved ones.