Alright, Angie Thomas, you got me; I’ll read anything you write.
On the Come Up is the second book by the author of The Hate U Give (which I also loved, if that wasn’t clear from the first sentence of this review). This one takes place in the same universe as THUG, and makes some reference to the events that occurred in that story. Like in THUG, Thomas uses a ripped-from-the-headlines hook to write her characters around; in this case, the harassment and racism of school security guards escalates to violence when two of them throw a teenager to the floor and pin her there after she refuses to relinquish her backpack (which passed through the metal detector without incident, but does contain contraband candy).
The book takes its time getting to this point, which you might think is the catalyst for the events of On the Come Up. It’s slower than THUG. But I think it’s a little more personal, too. This is Brianna Jackson’s story, and Bri wants nothing more than to be a rapper, like her father Lawless before her. It’s the one thing she feels like she’s good at. Unfortunately, between her struggle for an identity at her arts-based high school full of over-achievers, and worsening money problems at home, there’s not much time left over for following her dream, even though that dream, in her eyes, could be the very thing to save her and her family.
It’s clear that Thomas is not a one-hit wonder. Even though THUG and Come Up are both YA and feature similar characters and settings, each one feels individual and alive. One thing I’ve loved about THUG and Come Up are the parents. Their lives are so rich, and they’re so full of mistakes and regret and most of all love for their children. Siblings are little shits to each other and love each other so much. It’s just a pleasure to read. And here, Bri is a very different heroine from Starr Carter (who I love, but who, if I remember correctly, had her shit just a little bit more together). Bri is a teenager with a temper, she doesn’t think ahead, and she gets on blinders when she wants something. She’s also incredibly relatable, and Thomas is so empathetic in the way she portrays the internal conflict between wanting to be heard but not wanting to be seen; wanting to be understood but feeling forced into a role that was already written for you; being in a position to make a difference, but not wanting to be the face of something you can’t control.
That’s what you expect, bitch, ain’t it?
The picture you painted, I frame it.
Oh Bri. There is so much in you that I identify with (and so much that it was fun to live vicariously through – one of the greatest things about reading, of course – e.g. I could not freestyle rap to save my life and the two major songs in Come Up are SO GOOD). I have a temper. I had anger management issues when I was a teenager. I slept in class, skipped class, called my teachers (and the principal) names, and was never suspended or punished for any of it. Why? Sure, because I got good grades. Because I had known problems with depression and anxiety. But also, and likely especially, because I am a white girl. Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t fair. And when I was in high school, there were no cops, no security guards. The doors didn’t even get locked until after the extra-curriculars started winding up around 5pm. It’s not fair, and On the Come Up doesn’t have any easy answers. Neither did THUG. But in writing about it, and talking about it, hopefully we come a little closer.
4.5 stars, but I’ll round up to five, because this is my favourite book I’ve read so far this year (I know it’s February, but still).