Disclosure: I received a review copy of On the Come Up from Pansing Books, a regional distributor, in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.On the Come Up by Angie Thomas • contains 435 pages • published by Walker Books on February 7, 2019 • classified as Contemporary, Music, Young Adult • obtained through Pansing Books • read as ARC • shelve on Goodreads
The award-winning author of The Hate U Give returns with a powerful story about hip hop, freedom of speech and fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you. Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
Exceeded All Expectations
Books about music usually are full of heart and soul. On the Come Up is no exception. In fact, it far surpassed more than a few of such books I’ve loved before. On that front, I actually am a bit surprised. I knew that coming from Angie Thomas, this one would be a good book. However, hip hop isn’t generally on my radar, so I did go in with slightly tempered expectations.
On the Come Up was so powerfully written, in part precisely because of Bri’s lyrics. They expressed what she felt in the very depths of her being. They artfully conveyed the hardships Bri dealt with due to racism, crime and poverty. Not only did they encompass her anger but her hopes and dreams for herself, her family, and her neighbourhood at large.
Expanded My Horizons
Bri lived at an intersection that I’m wholly unfamiliar with — a black girl raised in a poor single parent home. Reading On the Come Up was a stark reminder of how much our privilege (or lack thereof) shapes our lives. Bri was determined though to break out of that life and to make something for herself. Understandably, her mother was afraid because that path Bri chose for herself got her father killed.
Like The Hate U Give, Angie’s sophomore novel made me stop and think about the world we live in. It showed the harm of stereotypes, whether or not people live up to them, as Bri’s aunt did. At the same time, it challenged those very stereotypes — it’s not just boys who can rap, girls can be just as mean at it, if not better.
As I read On the Come Up, I found myself very invested in Bri’s life, the lives of her family, her relatives, and her friends. Even as Bri rebelled against them, sought to find her place and identity, she cared very deeply for them. I felt for her as she struggled and felt torn between her dreams, their immediate needs and their acceptance of her.
The execution of the prose and plot flowed so naturally with this story, I very much lost myself in it. And when I was done, I was at a complete loss of words. On the Come Up is the kind of book that punches you in the gut but still hugs you afterwards, refusing to let you go. I think about this book more than some of my other favourites and I’m sure I still will for a long time to come.