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.
Bri wasn’t the best student at school. She was one of the troublemakers who was sent to the principle’s office for rolling her eyes in class and speaking her mind without filter. She was loved by her family but they weren’t perfect; Her mother J had once been a drug addict, her aunt was involved in the local gang, and her brother Trey worked in a pizza store. Despite their best attempts at making ends meet, her family faced unemployment and poverty. But Bri had a passion- She loved to rap and she dreamed about making it as a musician one day. An unpleasant experience at school inspired Bri to write a song that would spark controversy and push her towards fame.
Bri spoke her mind even if it meant getting into trouble, and she was relentless in pursuing her dream. Bri wasn’t perfect though. She was real. She made mistakes that had repercussions throughout the novel. She was just a teenager who was still finding who she was.
I loved the focus on family relationships in this novel. Bri’s relationships with her older brother Trey and her mother J were loving, but complicated, and very believable. Although she loved her mother, she never quite forgave J for her earlier years as an addict. And Bri was also jealous of her brother Trey who always seemed to have a closer relationship with her mother than she did. Bri didn’t remember much about her rap star father who passed away when she was young. Although she looked up to him, she didn’t want to hide in his shadow.
I also loved the dynamics between Bri and her group of friends. There was a small and sweet element of romance in this novel which I appreciated. It was natural for Bri to be involved in a relationship at her age, and I loved that it didn’t take up the entire novel. There was even a small love triangle which would usually irk me but I didn’t mind here.
While trying to succeed as a rapper, Bri faced criticism from the online and off-line community. At the same time, her family struggled to pay the bills and keep the electricity on. Her aunt’s involvement with the Garden Disciplines gang didn’t help things. I liked that this novel explored complex issues like poverty and gang violence in a brave, yet subtle way. I was able to understand multiple facets of these issues by putting myself in the shoes of the characters.
On the Come Up was a character-driven novel. Even though it was a longer book, I never felt bored because I loved the characters and always wanted to see what happened next. I loved that Bri was not just a victim of the circumstances; She took matters into her own hands and made decisions that would spark the later events in the novel.
The writing never stood out to me in a bad way. I loved that the descriptions and dialogues flowed and that Bri had a unique voice. I loved the dynamics between Bri and her family and between Bri and her friends, which showed in the dialogues between them. This novel was about a serious topic matter, but it was nice that there were some “comedic relief” scenes in between. I also loved Bri’s internal dialogue which was at times funny to read.
I LOVED the audiobook. Bahni Turpin (Children of Blood and Bone and The Hate U Give) did a great job with the narration. It was AMAZING how she portrayed a huge range of characters, giving each one their own unique voice. At several points in the novel, I couldn’t believe that she was the only narrator rather than an entire cast. If you are into audiobooks, I’d definitely recommend giving this a try!
On the Come Up was an inspiring novel about pursuing your dream given all the circumstances piled up against you. I loved the focus on family and friendships, and that this book gave me a glimpse into issues such as poverty and gang violence.
What do you think about On the Come Up? Have you read The Hate U Give? Which do you like better?
Photo by Søren Astrup Jørgensen on Unsplash
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