On the Come Up, Angie Thomas’s second novel, stars sixteen-year-old Bri, who dreams of becoming a rapper. Inspired by her late father, pursuing a music career feels like the only way to get her family out of their desperate financial situation.
The odds seem stacked against her: her mum was a drug addict during Bri’s formative years (and Bri’s worried that she’s relapsing), and even though her brother has a psychology degree, he only earns the minimum wage at a Pizzeria. Compounded with the constant stereotyping and racial profiling that she faces at school, she must carve her identity and make her voice heard in order to get her come up.
Much like in The Hate U Give (Thomas’s first novel), it is the protagonist’s voice that really makes this book; from the beginning, Bri’s world leaps from the page, her thoughts full of witty one-liners and musings on the unjust society around her. She’s incredibly assertive, smart, and funny; the perfect YA protagonist. I felt emotionally invested in her story; I was angry when she was excessively punished for speaking out in class and proud when she performed. This kept me engaged throughout and meaning that I read the book in no time at all.
Obviously, a lot of this book’s premise is focussed on rapping, but don’t let this put you off if that’s not to your music taste – by the end, you’ll realise that On the come Up is about something greater than that, and that rapping is the vehicle for the pertinent themes in the book. Not only was it entertaining, it was also educational. While you may think that the latter would detract from the former, Thomas weaves racial profiling, poverty and identity into the book so artfully that I hardly realised that I was learning about the experiences of many until I finished the book.
The novel is set in the same universe as The Hate U Give, and it’s clear that the events in that novel have changed Garden Heights, the neighbourhood in which both novels are based. This made the story feel more familiar, as it was a world that I’d read about before, and showed that some of the problems and worries that Starr (the protagonist in The Hate U Give) and Bri have are universal within the neighbourhood. By the looks of it, Thomas’s next novel Concrete Rose, a prequel to her first book, will also be set in this neighbourhood. I was hoping that she would maybe explore somewhere else, but if it’s anything like her first two books, I’m sure I will enjoy it.
If you enjoyed The Hate U Give, you’ll love this book. Even if you haven’t read the author’s debut work, the book’s deep exploration of relevant themes to today’s society as well as the masterful storytelling make this a must-read for YA lovers.
I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are on this book, and whether it lived up to your expectations in the comments below!
Take care, Al.