How badly did I want to read On the Come Up by Angie Thomas? I put my name on the list as soon as this appeared in the library’s catalog. On Saturday at 3:14 pm, I received the email that my copy was waiting for me on the holds shelf.
By 3:33 pm, I had that book in my hands.
I only live 1.8 miles from the library, but I had just gotten up from a nap. Didn’t care. When the library summons me, I go, and I go in a hurry when it’s Angie Thomas waiting for me.
Set in the same neighborhood as Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, On the Come Upfocuses on Bri, a sixteen year-old who dreams of becoming a rapper. Her father, who was murdered when Bri was young, was an up-and-coming rap artist who had just begun to taste success, so the rhymes Bri fills her notebooks with run deep in her blood. But Bri’s not about capitalizing on her father’s name; she’s out to make it on her own merits. Times are tough at home, though; her mother, who’s in recovery from the addiction that nearly ruined everything after her husband died, has just lost her job, leaving Bri’s older brother Trey’s pizza place job the family’s sole source of income. Aunt Pooh, who serves as Bri’s manager alongside dealing drugs, has gotten her a place at the local rap battle, and thus begins everyone knowing exactly who Bri Jackson is.
Nothing is ever that simple, though. Bri’s got trouble at school from the security guards who seem to treat the black and brown kids more harshly than the white ones, and when the song she writes and records to protest the injustice of it goes viral, Bri gets more attention than she bargained for. Some of it’s positive- Supreme, a producer who knew her father, is interested in helping her grow her career- but some of it comes from a local gang that takes her lyrics as a front against them, and suddenly Bri’s not sure she’s projecting the image of who she really is. Can she stay true to herself and the kind of music she wants to make while still saving her family from poverty and making it out of the Garden?
Ms. Thomas tackles a lot of issues in this novel- poverty, racism, addiction, friendship, strained family relationships, grief, the constant stress and stressors of life in an impoverished community- but they’re never thrown in the reader’s face in an overwhelming manner. Rather, she lets you get to know each character, fall in love with them, and lets the pressures build as the characters live their lives. It’s such an amazing change from the YA that I read growing up, where the authors would basically punch you in the face with whatever message they were trying to convey. Ms. Thomas’s voice is so fresh, so immediate and authentic, that it imbues each character with such energy that they practically leap off the page. Please, someone tell me this is going to be made into a movie, because I will see that thing twice.
Each character in On the Come Up has their own distinct personality (which, you’d think that’d be a given in all novels, but it’s really not). I’ve read plenty of books with large casts where I had to stop and try to remember who that guy was, or refer to my notes to remember the girl that was speaking. Not so at ALL in this book. There’s no mistaking Sonny for Malik, no interchanging Curtis with anyone else, no struggle to remember who Shana was again. Every single character is easily identifiable by their own traits and mannerisms, and the description is never once overdone here. And Ms. Thomas is a master of dialogue. It’s the way the characters speak, both with each other and Bri’s inner dialogue, that makes this story feel like the cool side of the pillow on a summer evening. I only hope that one day, my own writing is as real as this.
I wasn’t sure how on earth Ms. Thomas could ever manage to follow up The Hate U Give– second novels are notoriously difficult, even without your first being the smash success THUG was- but On the Come Up is utterly brilliant and just as amazing. She thanks someone in the acknowledgements for believing in Bri and her story, even when she was struggling to write, but the finished product comes off as gloriously effortless. This book is just. so. good. My brain was going full on teenage-girl-screaming-at-the-Beatles-on-The-Ed-Sullivan-Show fangirl levels throughout the book. Angie Thomas has sealed the deal for me with On the Come Up; I will read absolutely anything she ever writes from now until the end of time.
I may be about the last book blogger to have read this, but it was absolutely worth the wait, and I’m thinking I should get in line now for whatever it is she writes next, because I’m an Angie Thomas fan for life now.