This was never going to be an easy sell for me, and at the end of the day this book gets knocked down for similar reasons that 1Q84 was ultimately frustrating (talk about genre agnostic comparisons): too many threads at the end of the novel hastily tied up.
Normal comparisons will of course be to Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give. They all fall into this liminal audience space, where I’m not sure if she’s writing “for” me (the non-BPOC audience working out their empathy muscle via great books) or “for” #ownvoices (filling a gap in available offerings). It’s hard for me to tell because I feel a certain way about analogous books written about the South American/Desi experience, and all I can go off of is Goodreads reviews by self-identifying reviewers.
The answer is both and none of the above. She’s a goddamn writer, not the answer to all our antiracist issues, and I also don’t want to relegate her to another anecdote in the endless “authors” / “female authors” or “authors” / “Black authors” issue from Wikipedia and elsewhere. My feelings of what Thomas is trying to do are my own to manage!
So, Bri. Of course Bri and I don’t get along. I have never been in a situation I haven’t wanted to internalize and process silently as much as humanly possible without my head blowing off. Bri, however, starts the book running with having had Enough. Also she’s 16. I remember 16. I wouldn’t want to hang out with myself at 16.
I feel like the reputation of The Hate U Give looms large over On the Come Up, because while the focus is ostensibly on the racism inherent in Bri’s experiences, I think the real messaging is about the insidious effects of poverty, and how they’ve shaped all facets of Bri’s life and her decisions. I’m reminded of all that research back when on the effects of poverty on your willpower and mental bandwidth. It’s telling that the main plot resolutions aren’t around the security and policing at Bri’s school but around establishing some measure of financial security. It was a bit pat–I mean, this is fiction so things can be as pat as they want–but my issue there is less the happy ending but the speed with which so many issues were resolved, almost like the book was nearing a lot of pages and couldn’t get much longer.
(For the avoidance of doubt: this book is not not about racism. What in our world isn’t?)