Pages: 464 pages
Published: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.
On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be, and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.
I wish Angie Thomas’s books and writing style existed when I was a teenager. They provide the realism and reliability that teens need to read from books. You would not think that Angie Thomas would be able to top her bestselling smash hit The Hate U Give. But with her latest new release, On The Come Up, Thomas has risen the ranks with other great YA writers and proven herself to be the great diverse voice the world needs.
Bri Jackson is completely different from Starr. She is brash, quick-tempered, angry and opinionated. But don’t let that fool you. Underneath the nature that some may call aggressive, is a caring teenage girl who wants nothing but the best for her family. This is where Thomas created a complex character, a character who I found that had a deep connection with. Thomas was able to explore so many themes with Bri: abandonment issues, mental health, searching for an identity and stereotypes. All these issues are what teens facing today. Bri’s complexity and tough nature might deter some adult readers but it is what’s going to connect teen readers to her story. If there were more characters like Bri, I believe more teenagers would be reading.
I also loved how this novel took a stab at the ugly stereotypes that everyone has to deal with, however, this book really highlights what black people, unfortunately, have to face. Fiction books about music are not always great but this one was definitely a hit. Readers will not enjoy a close examination of the duplicitous and conniving acts of the music industry but also will love the rhymes that Bri is constantly spewing out. Bri uses hip hop to get a handle of her feelings, which ties in with art forms giving people a chance to express themselves. But what I really liked about this music angle is that Thomas didn’t provide some fairy tale ending with Bri’s budding music career. Like any hip hop female artist in the real world, Bri faced sexism and double standards. It was very important that teens needed to see this, that the music industry considers their artists as a product, not a person and you need to make a choice which is more important to you: being famous or being yourself.
The family dynamic of this novel was amazing. The relationship between Bri and her family may be strained but it doesn’t stop her from caring about them and wanting to earn their respect. The emotional trials and struggles may be painful to read but that is what I think Thomas wanted from the book. To see Bri rise above it and realize that it does not have to define her but at least be part of who she is.
I know it is early but this is so far one of the best YA contemporary novels I have read this year. If Angie Thomas keeps writing and gives us realistic stories like this, she will always have a huge following. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next!
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars