by Mark Oshiro
Moss Jeffries is many things: considerate student, devoted son, loyal friend and affectionate boyfriend, enthusiastic nerd. But sometimes Moss still wishes he could be someone else, someone without panic attacks, someone whose father was still alive, someone who hadn’t become a rallying point for a community because of one horrible night. And most of all, he wishes he didn’t feel so stuck.
Moss can’t even escape at school. He and his friends are subject to the lack of funds and crumbling infrastructure at West Oakland High as well as constant intimidation by the resource officer stationed in their halls. Something will have to change, but who will listen to a group of teens?
When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes again, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.
Discussion questions from SOMN
- Read the novel’s epigraphs—the quotations at the beginning of the book—as a class and then read short online biographies of James Baldwin and Dolores Huerta. Do you think the meanings of the quotes have changed from when they were first written? If yes, how have they changed?
- Reflect on the title of the book before and after reading it. Is anger a gift, and did reading the book change your perspective?
- Moss lives with anxiety and panic attacks and other effects from the trauma of his father’s violent death. He often feels ashamed about being emotional and wonders how best to navigate when and where he expresses himself. How does Moss cope with his fears and flashbacks? What strategies does he use? Do you think there is a stigma in talking about issues like depression and anxiety? If yes, why? How do you think that stigma could be erased?
- Rawiya tells the story of the day Principal Elliot ordered her to remove her hijab during the Pledge of Allegiance at a school assembly. What do you think about Rawiya’s response? How do Rawiya’s friends support her? How can schools and institutions improve their practices to make a more inclusive environment for all students?
- Shawna and Reg both have medical conditions and were injured by West Oakland High’s supposed attempts to keep them safe. Do you think Officer Hull’s presence at the school is more harmful or helpful? If you were the principal, how would you ensure the safety of Shawna and Reg?
- Moss’s high school includes school resource officers and metal detectors, while Esperanza’s school across town boasts college prep resources. How are these schools in the same city, yet so different? What social or public policies do these differences reflect? Have you seen these differences in your own communities?
- What did you think about the scene where Reg is forced to go through the metal detector? How would you have handled that situation if you were Reg, if you were his friend, if you were the officers or school staff?
Classroom activities from SOMN
- If Anger Is a Gift had a soundtrack, which songs would you include? Working in groups, compile songs into a playlist and share the final list with the entire class.
- Moss’s school is seriously underfunded, although money is available to administer tests and install military-grade security equipment. Research how public schools, including charter schools, are funded in your community and state. Make charts to compare how the funding varies by district and how your state’s funding compares to that of the rest of the country.
- Working in groups, have students research the impact of policing brutality in the disability rights movement as well as other movements for social justice. As a class, discuss what you learned.
- In his author’s note, Mark Oshiro provides an extensive list of nonfiction books that taught him that “anger is indeed a gift, and that to wield that gift is an awesome experience.” He also includes a list of novels that inspired him. Choose one of the books from the author’s note, or you could also read the novel Mrs. Torrance assigned, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and check it out from a local library. After you have had time to read the selections, come together as a class to report on the book you chose. Share the most surprising, enraging, or profound things you learned.
- Watch this video and discuss the social vs. medical models of disability. Think about times in the novel where access was limited or denied for different characters, for example Reg at the coffee shop. Discuss what the characters did in those situations and what you would do in those situations.