To be quite honest with you, not only do I feel this is an excellent prequel (a rare beast in and of itself), I may actually have liked this one better than it’s predecessor, The Hate U Give. I will hold off on stating that for certain as I haven’t read that book since it was first published, so my memories of it aren’t the freshest. But this book was great! Prequels CAN be done, if you have an author that isn’t scrambling to justify an excursion back into the world that made money for them, but who actually has a story worth telling. And Maverick’s story, for me, was completely compelling.
For those of you whose memories of the first book need refreshing (or who haven’t read it), Maverick Carter is Starr Carter’s father, from THUG. You can absolutely read this book without reading THUG first. This book takes place seventeen years before the first one, in a not coincidental timeline, because this is the story of how Maverick became a two-time seventeen year old father, and how that put him in a place to make a choice on what the rest of his life was going to look like. I greatly enjoyed the “accidental baby” trope as it was played out here, particularly since Thomas is so good at fleshing out her world and her characters. For me, it was equal parts emotionally affecting and entertaining to watch Maverick figure out how to care for baby Seven, and how to restructure his life around being a parent.
Aside from the pleasure of watching Mav grow into fatherhood, this was also a pretty savvy look at Black masculinity and Black fatherhood. Maverick essentially becomes a single father after Seven’s mother Iesha (who is dealing with bad post-partum depression without a support system) leaves the baby with him. With the baby comes all kinds of changes to Maverick’s life: a new job, new schedule, and his cousin Dre wants him to stop being so heavy into the King Lords (a gang in their neighborhood of Garden Heights). In fact, there may be books out there that I haven’t heard of (most likely there is!) but it seems a rare thing to experience the teenage pregnancy storyline through the eyes of the father rather than the mother, and it was really refreshing.
(Worth noting: This review is coming from someone who cites the “Accidental Baby Acquisition” tag on ao3 as one of her favorites.)
Literally my only complaint is that I would have liked to see the narrative taken all the way to Starr’s birth, and gotten some potential idea of what Mav was going to do in order to get out of the King Lords. (I couldn’t remember how he had done it, but I finally watched the THUG movie over the weekend, and they mentioned that Mav did time for one of the Kings as his “penance.”) I feel like it was a deliberate choice on Thomas’s part to leave it a little more open-ended, and she was probably right, but I have a hard time leaving a book without wanting more when I’ve really enjoyed it.
All in all, a massive success. And I hope they make another movie out of it soon.
[4.5 stars, rounding up]