June 6, 2019
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas
Genre/Categories: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction, Homelessness, Poverty, Family Life, YA Music, Racism
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
The daughter of a Garden Heights rap legend, sixteen-year-old Bri’s greatest desires include making it as a rapper, making enough money to take care of her mom and siblings, and moving out of the neighborhood. Bri is distracted at school by her rapping goals and neighborhood performances. At home, her mom has lost her job and the family is facing unpaid bills, shut off notices, an empty refrigerator, and the threat of homelessness. Suddenly, Bri not only wants to make it as a rapper, now she has to make it. Bri makes some impulsive decisions as she fights to make her dreams a reality. This is a story about fighting for your dreams against the odds as it portrays the realities of poor and working-class black families. Author Angie Thomas has experience in the art of rapping and her authentic voice fills all the spaces in this realistic story with vivid details of the Garden Heights community and its memorable characters. Although the story takes place in the same community and makes a reference to the shooting at the center of The Hate You Give, this is not a sequel to THUG and can be read as a stand-alone. Each book is a unique reading experience.
Own Voices: On The Come Up is a powerful and difficult-to-tell story from an “own voices” author. While reading this, I continually reminded myself to simply listen and absorb and build my understanding. I tried to set aside any thoughts of analyzing or reviewing.
Bri Teaches Me: From Bri, I learn what racism feels like from her perspective as a minority at a magnet high school. I learn what it’s like when Mom loses her job and a teenager feels the weight on her shoulders. I learn what it feels like to be gifted and driven at sixteen with no resources to put a plan into action. I can imagine what it’s like to have a family member arrested and sent to jail. I feel fear as Bri navigates the streets and difficult situations and interfaces with unreliable characters on her own. Through Bri, I learn to appreciate the art of rapping as I recognize the skill involved. For example, I had no idea that rap is made up on the spot after you’ve bought a beat. I thought all the lyrics were written ahead of time. I admire Bri’s creativity as she thinks of rhymes, phrases, and concepts. I love the complexity of her struggles on multiple fronts: family loyalty, friendship, success, finding her voice, racism, following her dream, social injustice, dating, and artistic expression.
A Memorable Character: Even though Bri is impulsive, hot-headed, and often speaks without thinking, she is a character you can root for and empathize with. Her father (an up and coming rapper and neighborhood legend) was a victim of gang violence, her mom is a recovering drug addict and struggling single mom, and her older brother is a steady influence in her life. Bri has a very big dream and struggles to make it on her own as a rapper in a dangerous and cutthroat business. She has dual motivation: her strong instinct that she has a gift and her heartfelt sense of obligation and duty to provide for her family. Her youthful inexperience lands her in trouble and contributes to her making some poor decisions, but we also understand her desperation and drive.
Issues: On The Come Up is an issue centered YA book and Angie Thomas doesn’t pull punches. As a white woman of privilege having no experience with rap culture, with racism, or living in a Garden Heights neighborhood, I want to listen and learn from the stories that Angie Thomas shares. Some of this story has a basis in her own childhood in Jackson, Mississippi. Listen to the NPR It’s Been a Minute Podcast with Angie Thomas to hear her speak about her writing and the target audience. Some of the same issues are addressed in both On The Come Up and The Hate You Give. While the focus of On the Come Up is on rap culture and a rising star, the focus of The Hate You Give is on the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager. Here’s the link to my review post of The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.
If you are reading this and are a reviewer of color, I would love to include a link to your “own voices” review (on any platform) in this post. Please let me know in comments. Also, if you have concerns about any of my comments, please kindly let me know.
Recommended: I’m absolutely recommending this for readers who appreciate diverse and challenging reads, for those who are looking for reading outside their usual genres, for parents who have teenage readers who might check this out from their high school library, and for book clubs. Even though it might be difficult and out of your comfort zone, I think it’s an important read. If you have a specific question about the reading, I’d be happy to address it in comments.
***Content warnings for language.
My Rating: 5 Stars
Meet the Author, Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.
Do you enjoy diverse reads? Do you think it’s beneficial to read books for which you are not the target audience? Do you have experience with rap culture or lyrics? Have you read THUG or seen the movie?
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Come back Friday for a review of The River by Peter Heller along with some Father’s Day reading recommendations.
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