How Russell Hornsby inspired Angie Thomas to write Concrete Rose

Seija Rankin
·7 min read

Illustration by EW

Angie Thomas somehow predicted just what 2021 was going to need. Today, the author, much to the delight of her swarms of adoring fans, releases a prequel to her breakout blockbuster novel The Hate U Give. Concrete Rose goes back to a '90s-era Garden Heights, when Maverick and Lisa were just two teenagers in love — until baby Seven entered the chat. The novel follows Maverick as he grows up faster than he ever thought he would, laying the groundwork for the fully-realized family readers fell in love with in The Hate U Give. And yes, there are Easter eggs. Here, the author talks to EW about the moment she knew she needed to tell this story, and what she hopes we'll all take away from it.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you start thinking about Maverick's complete backstory, and begin wanting to write a prequel?
ANGIE THOMAS: It's probably going to surprise people that my favorite character is not Starr. She's second. My favorite character from The Hate U Give was actually Maverick. I remember the first time I saw Russell Hornsby as Maverick, I was like wait, this is the cop dad from Lincoln Heights and now he's going to play this former gang member dad? But he blew me away and he was Maverick, full-stop. Here was this man I've never met and he just embodied my character in every way I had envisioned when I was writing.

Russell and I would have conversations about Maverick, with Russell asking me questions I hadn't answered before: what his relationship with his mom was like, did he have siblings, what were things like for him? It got me intrigued to the point that I realized, huh, this could be a book all its own. So I walked away from the set one day telling myself, I've got to write a book about Maverick so that I can explore this. It only felt right to answer everything in book form.

Does that mean you've had Concrete Rose ready and waiting for the right time to publish?
I was jotting things down for both Concrete Rose and On the Come Up while I was on set for The Hate U Give. I knew I wanted to write On the Come Up next but while watching Russell play Maverick there were all these things that I was observing and deciding that I wanted them to go in the book. When I was on tour for On the Come Up I was kind of hinting at this book during events. I'd say stuff like, my third book is going to take us back to Garden Heights and it's a character from The Hate U Give. Everyone thought it was going to be a sequel — a lot of people thought I was going to write about Chris and that cracks me up to this day. Like, I love you, but no. [Laughs]

Imani Khayyam

This book looks at Maverick's life in late high school; what was it about that period that felt like the most important moment?
It was a combination of things: That was the point in his life in which he becomes a father. And it's also the point where he started to figure out who he is. When we meet Maverick in The Hate U Give, he knows himself. He's very sure of where he stands on issues and what he believes. The idea that at some point, he had no clue is fascinating to me. We often make young people believe that if you don't know who or what you want to be by the time you're 18, 19, 20, you're screwed — and that is such a lie. I'm in my 30s, and I'm still figuring it out! That doesn't mean that I'm a failure; it just means that I'm a millennial.

I also wanted to show him at the most vulnerable time in his life. We don't allow young Black boys to have vulnerability enough. We don't allow them to have those moments and we don't show them enough in storytelling and the media.

Were there any young people in your life that specifically inspired this version of Maverick?
There were several men that helped me with building this character. There was a young man from my neighborhood, he was 17 years old and he ended up becoming a father of twins. He had no car, no form of transportation, and the children and their mom lived a couple of streets over — I would see him on his bicycle going to visit his kids. If their mom needed a break, he would load those babies on to his bike. I would see him going down the street with one baby in his arm and the other in the basket; he handled his business as far as being a father. I thought about him a lot when I was writing this character.

I also thought about the fathers that we so often don't see in storytelling, and that's those who are active in their children's lives. There's this incorrect belief that Black fathers are unicorns when the reality is they are everywhere and they're involved and active. I wanted to show that through this young man, who's learning and making mistakes but whose heart is in the right place. I wanted to say to all the Black fathers, I know you, I see you, and you're beautiful. Keep going.

Seven's mother struggles with taking care of him, and we see that play out as Maverick is essentially the sole caretaker; can you talk about writing Iesha's storyline and the work you did to be fair to her struggle as well?
It was very important to me to get Iesha's story right. It would be easy to just say, 'Oh, she's the irresponsible teenaged mom.' But no, there are so many things working against her. There have been a lot of discussions about Black motherhood and the way the healthcare system treats Black moms from the very beginning. So often when teenagers have kids we condemn them instead of giving them the support they need. So I didn't want to make Iesha a villain — I wanted to show all the gray areas and give readers a better sense of why she's not able to give as much by the time we get to know her in The Hate U Give.

What was it like for you to write the young version of Carlos? And, really, what are we going to do with Carlos?
The funny thing is my editor and I accidentally call him Carlton all the time. In The Hate U Give, people either love him or they hate him, but in Concrete Rose, we see a young man who is a very protective older brother. He lives in the neighborhood but has distanced himself so much from the people around him that he feels like if I made it, why can't other people? There are so many of us who can have that attitude, and we forget to try to understand other people's circumstances. But Carlos was definitely a character that I was like, you know what, I could send you off a cliff right now. But I won't do that! So I just tried to remember as I was writing that he wants the best for his sister, damn everything and anything that gets in the way of that. I look forward to conversations with readers around Carlos.

Do you have any predictions of other elements of this book that everyone will want to talk about? What kind of tweets will you be getting?
I don't want to spoil it, but there's a reveal early on in part three of a connection between a new character that we meet in Concrete Rose and a character that we know from The Hate U Give, and I think that's going to get a lot of people talking. I was like, oh, they are going to be mad at me! I've already gotten texts from my writer-friends like, how dare you. It's going to be interesting to see how people take it.

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