Book Review: On The Come Up

Ok, let me fan girl for a sec…I legit got to MEET Angie Thomas…like meet, she saw my face…and well, I made her laugh. Moving on! Last year, after reading The Hate You Give, it stirred something in me and I think it did the same for many people. Upon finding out that Angie Thomas had a new book coming out, I knew it would make my book list and let me tell you it didn’t disappoint. Read on to find out our thoughts on; On The Come Up.

Synopsis:

The book chronicles the life of aspiring rapper Brianna Jackson, through her internal dialogue; she is dealling with growing up in Garden Heights, an area people have given up on, where you’re not expected to be much beyond a gang banger, a drug dealer, user or worse dead; but she dreams of making a better life for her family and hopes that launching her rap carreer will do that.

Waterstones Wool Exchange,
Bradford, Yorkshire – March 2019

Break it Down:

Angie Thomas wraps and raps her political and social commentary so intelligently into the story, she uses her character’s “attitude” and bite to make a political statement and I’m all for it! She manages to find a way to make a teenage character with enough depth and be interesting all the while making her current and with enough angst and attitude to remind the reader that she is still a teenager. Bri has to work on finding out who she wants to be, all the while pushing back on what her family and all the people around her (and sometimes further afield) want her to be. It’s a coming of age story, but it doesn’t have the cliched ending that most do, recognizing that all of the questions may not be answered, but then again, they don’t all have to be. As Bri’s star begins to rise around Garden Heights and the online community, she struggles with her rapping persona and the assumptions people will make of her based on the colour of her skin and where she is from. She learns the hard way when it comes to showing an allegiance to a gang and learns a hard lesson when it comes to seeing how younger children perceive her based on the lyrics of her “breakthrough” song, “On The Come Up”. One of her biggest lessons is learning that despite how wrapped up in her own feelings she gets, that the cast of characters around her really do love and care about her, even if they show it in various ways.

I love how Angie inserts the typical characters you expect in the Black community, but she finds a way to make it light-hearted, honest and sometimes very funny or at least to me. Bri’s internal dialogue and the conversations she has with her friends are fully believable, you can actually visualize the conversations genuinely happening. Angie created characters who would normally be antagonists in the books we are used to, she made them “human” to us, she added dimension and heart to them. I found this to be the case particularly with Aunt Poo, the fact that she’d essentially a “gang banger and a drug dealer”, she showed her kindness, her willingness to do anything for her family, despite the fact that it may not be through legal ways, she ultimately did it out of love. I can only applaud Angie Thomas for this, because it’s necessary, for us to know that people are complex beings who sometimes make bad choices, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t inherently good or that they don’t deserve to be viewed from a place of love. Angie was also able to make Jay, Brianna’s former drug abusing mother, in a far more multifaceted way. She showed her struggle, but she showed it through Bri’s eyes, it’s not till the end of the book that we really see Bri coming of age, but also Jay giving her the space to mature into herself.

Bri’s mother, Jay- as she affectionately calls her, is a recovering drug addict who works hard, but struggles to make ends meet, her brother Trey is intelligent and an aspiring psychologist, but puts it on hold in order to help Jay stay afloat. Her two best friends, Sonny & Malik are her constant cheerleaders, but as her stardom begins to develop, they clash with the Bri they know and the Bri persona she is happy to project to the wider world.

Negatives?:

I don’t think it’s fair to call it a negative as such, but it isn’t a hard hitting, gut wrenching book, it’s very much a light, page turner. Personally, I enjoy reading books that leave me thinking…it’s lightness as a book doesn’t take away from it’s relevance. I will give Angie Thomas credit for having a homosexual character as one of the leads throughout the story, but my critique is more for how predictable and unimpactful Miles’ character is in the book and subcequently his and Sonny’s relationship throughout the storyline. I recognise they are supporting characters and not central to the story, but as homosexuality within the Black community is such a “taboo” subject, I wanted her to be more impactful on this storyline.

The RnR Rating:

This is somewhat like the Hate U Give, but with so much more bite, it’s like the commentary she was either too shy or too cautious to make in her debut novel, THUG, but with her sophomore novel, she thoroughly kicks the gloves off and drops truths like a rap battle. I love how fearless Bri is, especially if you do compare her to Star, she is all the things you were willing Star to be in THUG- strong willed and strong minded and not afraid to speak her mind and full of attitude.

Would I recommend the book?:

Yes, it’s not majorly hard hitting and I didn’t drop the book in shock or masses of tears, but it’s still impactful in many ways. Angie Thomas gets her point across, all while using not just a female protagonist, but an African American one as well. More power to her and I’m all for it.

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