Title // On The Come Up
Author // Angie Thomas
Publisher // Balzer + Bray
Publication Date // February 5th, 2019
Synopsis // 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.
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5)
Angie Thomas definitely set a high bar with her first book that would be difficult for this book to achieve, yet it definitely reached it. I had high expectations, and although I liked it slightly less than THUG, I still really enjoyed On The Come Up and was not disappointed!
This book tackled the issue of free speech and censorship that black people in particular face. Bri writes an amazing raw song that encompasses her feelings and has important themes in it, but as it goes viral and she gets major news attention, people start taking it literally, looking for ways to pick it and her apart, to shine a negative light on the black community, and to put her into a image of how they think black people are instead of seeing who she really is.
With all this, Bri faces people telling her that she should not post the video, or lay low and not say what she really wants to say. On the flip side, Bri is also treated violetly by racist guards, and is asked to speak up and show a video of that, showing her as a poster girl for a cause, when she doesn’t want to be reflected that way. I really liked how these issues were discussed. It definitely made me think about free speech, about how and when to speak up, and wonder about how free speech really is for marginalized groups, and how important it can be to really speak up on your own terms despite how the world wants to portray you.
This book definitely mentions and calls out racism, particularly with free speech, ways minorities are treated in schools and with security guards, and challenges in finding a job, but it also does an amazing job of discussing sexism as well! Bri constantly challenges ideas that girls are lesser than guys or can’t be as great rappers, and she’s such a fierce character that she definitely brings down any sexist ideas about girls!
Bri is a rapper, and rap music gets plenty of love in this book. I’m not a fan of rap myself, but after reading this book, I definitely wanted to listen to some of Bri’s songs–great themes, ideas, words, rhymes–they’re just really good and I loved reading about them. If you love books about music like I do, than this is definitely a great book to read!
I loved the themes and portrayal of family in this book as well. Bri comes from a poor family in the so called ghetto, and faces the harsh reality of not having enough money, and we see the strain that puts on the family, from her desire to make music to make money for her family, to her brother’s decision to not go on to grad school even though he wants to so he can stay and work, and the struggle that her mom goes through trying to find a job despite her rough past.
It also shows the complex relationship between a mom who had a teenage pregnancy and her children, a grandmother who was forced to look out for her grandchildren and how that affects her relationship with them and their mom, an aunt who was basically raised by her older sister, and the affect that a dead dad has on all of them. It shows how rough and complex family can be, particularly as Bri tries to break away from always being considered a mini version of her dad instead of just as herself, yet how important it always ultimately is.
Overall, Bri is just such a fierce, amazing, strong character. She’s bold, fierce, determined, and unabashedly herself. She’s determined to make a name for herself in a world that’s hard to break out in, to not apologize or cower to racists and sexists. She gets caught up, at least a little bit, in fights, chants, and gangs, and holds her own, and I just kind of love her.
Overall, this was a phenomenal book that I highly recommend. Although I felt that it dragged a little bit at the beginning and it wasn’t as amazing as THUG to me, I still really really enjoyed it and think everyone should read it!