ON THE COME UP
by Angie Thomas
Release Date: February 5, 2019
Published By: Balzer + Bray
464 Pages – Hardcover
Written by the author of the wildly bestselling, The Hate U Give (also a major motion picture), Angie Thomas is back with another contemporary young adult novel revolving around the pursuit for greater understanding about the challenges poor working-class African-American youth endure today.
It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.
Sixteen-year-old Brianna Jackson, Bri for short, should be focused on her grades and getting into college, well, at least that is what everyone keeps telling her. Her brother Trey graduated high school with honors and even went to college—a rarity growing up in the ghetto. But since he couldn’t find a job, he is back in Garden Heights and making minimum wage.
Even without knowing that college isn’t everything, Bri just wants to make it as a rapper. Her father, who died twelve years ago and who Bri hardly remembers, was an underground hip-hop legend. It’s not that she wants to follow in his footsteps, it is in her blood. This is not a phase for Bri, it is her dream.
I mean, it’s one thing to wanna do something. It’s another to think it’s possible. Rapping has been my dream forever, but dreams aren’t real. You wake up from them or reality makes them seem stupid. Trust, every time my fridge is almost empty, all of my dreams seem stupid (50).
When she finally gets a chance to rap battle at the Ring, the same local venue her father performed at, Bri fiends for the chance to prove herself more than ever. The story is almost a new-age, childlike version of 8 Mile—but instead of trying to make it as a white boy rapper, Bri wants to succeed as a female. As she puts it, she wants to make a point against the “misogynistic fuckery” in the rap industry.
Guess it’s funny that a sixteen-year-old girl in a Darth Vader hoodie thinks she’s got a shot in the Ring (23).
As readers, we cannot help by compare On the Come Up to Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, especially since it takes place in the same neighborhood and reflects similar issues. Written in first person, Bri evaluates the change in the neighborhood since the riots depicted in The Hate U Give.
The Garden passes by my window. Older folks water their flowers or bring out their trash cans. A couple of cars blast music on high. Seems normal, but things haven’t been the same since the riots. The neighborhood doesn’t feel nearly as safe. Not that the Garden was ever a utopia, hell no, but before I only worried about GDs and Crowns. Now I gotta worry about the cops too? (51)
The voices of Starr and Bri resemble each other, and the first-person stances are similar in simplistic writing style. On the contrary, where Starr is a likable character, Bri is quite different; she is resentful (understandably), defiant, and impulsive. With that said, Thomas’ writing brings out an abundance of personality in a way that makes you chuckle more than cringe. Bri is a teenager, after all. As the story progresses, the characters develop, learn from their mistakes, and readers can’t help but sympathize with their circumstances.
Let’s be real: We’re black kids from one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. All it takes is one of us messing up, and suddenly all of us messed up (128).
On the Come Up is one of those novels that everyone will be talking about. It is an entrancing blend of family dynamic, music, and activism. Not to mention, Fox 2000 has already bought the movie rights for it! Get your hands on a copy today – click here to buy on Amazon (it helps support the blog!).