I tend to stick to fantasy when it comes to YA, so I wasn’t even aware of The Hate U Give until the controversy two years back involving Handbook for Mortals and its faked sales numbers. I read and loved The Hate U Give for CBR 10, and as a result, read On the Come Up within weeks of its release.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to follow up a novel like The Hate U Give, and I know a lot of people loved On the Come Up. I liked it well enough, but I wasn’t as engaged in Bri’s story as Starr’s. I think it’s because Bri was more impulsive and had more of a temper than Starr, and while I think her actions are actually realistic of a teenager, I also had quite a few moments of wanting to shake her.
Bri’s dad died right before he was about make it big as a hip hop artist, and Bri has dreams to follow in his foot steps. Her aunt arranges for her to make her debut at a local rap battle locale, and it looks she might be on her way. She releases a single that goes viral but unfortunately, it is very misunderstood by the listeners. Still, Bri wonders if maybe she should lean into that persona to make it, especially since that is the guidance she receives from her father’s former manager.
The best parts are the parts where the novel goes into Bri’s family relationships, and how her family is still recovering and rebuilding from their responses to her dad’s death. I also liked the parts focused on Bri’s school, especially in how it explores issues of racial discrimination and violence from the school security. The white parents are quick to write off the event, even as the lack of discipline for the officer leads to tensions at the school.
The novel is very much one of self-discovery as Bri has to decide who she wants to be in the world, and what her principles are while she also begins to realize that the people around her more complex than she realized. She also understands how quickly everything can be lost, given that her mother loses her job early on in the novel, leaving them on the edge of poverty and desperation.
I think one of the minor complaints I saw about The Hate U Give was Starr’s obsession with early 90’s hip-hop and Fresh Prince, and how those seemed a bit unrealistic. I actually thought that helped the novel not date itself by choosing older pop culture references. In this novel, the teens are very much into the recent Black Panther release and greet each other with “Wakanda Forever.” It seems like Thomas is taking that criticsm to heart, and while I think it probably is more accurate of teen interests, I also personally found myself distracted from the narrative by such recent/modern references – pop culture references in novels are fine line for me for some reason, a few subtle ones I enjoy, but they can easily annoy me, so I’m sure this is criticism of the novel is going to be unique quirk to me.