Before I get into my review of On the Come Up I just want to say that it has been kind of a hard one to write. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book – I really did, as you’ll see below – but because I spent a lot of time thinking about how my voice could add to the conversation around these issues Angie Thomas covers. While I can’t add much to those conversations, what I can tell you is that reading this book helped me learn more about how issues like race, poverty, drug use, gang violence, and sexism can impact young people’s lives. I’d really encourage people to read up on the interviews Angie Thomas herself has been doing (also, you should for sure check out this video of Angie performing the rap from the book!)
Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
This was a quick and engaging read. I haven’t read The Hate U Give yet (although it is high on my TBR!), so I was a bit nervous about whether I would be missing out on background to the story (this isn’t a sequel but is set in the same neighbourhood just after the events of The Hate U Give). While there may have been more I would have picked up on had I read that first, I certainly didn’t feel lost or like there was any barrier for me getting into the story.
Similarly, I also wondered whether not knowing a single thing about rap would get in the way of my enjoyment of the book – it really didn’t!
Angie Thomas’ writing is warm and accessible, and I really felt invited into the story. The narrative voice felt very authentic, in terms of really sounding like a teenager. The issues examined in the novel are broad – as well as race it covers issues like socio-economic differences between Bri and her friends, drug addiction, and gang violence – and it is done in a way that feels super natural (rather than feeling like problems are being heaped on a character just for the sake of a story, if that makes sense). I also thought that all of these aspects of Bri’s life – along with the teen drama we all experience, like figuring out who we want to be, dealing with pressure/expectations from our families, and navigating crushes – were so well balanced in the book and I feel like no one of those issues overpowers the others. In the same way, none of the issues or challenges Bri is up against defines her.
One of the things that really struck me in the book was how easily someone’s life can spiral away from what they want when they are already disadvantaged, and the way a chain of events can change peoples lives. An example of this in the novel is Bri’s older brother, who has put his plans of getting a college education on hold in order to be home and help support his family.
Honestly, for all the heavy issues and difficulties in this book I found it a completely heartwarming and charming read. Bri is an amazing protagonist and I loved spending time with her. I’m even more keen to read The Hate U Give now, and am looking forward to seeing what Angie Thomas has in store for us next!