“All these folks I’ve never met became gods over my life. Now I gotta take the power back.”
Synopsis: 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.
Age Group & Genre(s): Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Social Issues, Young Adult
Point of View: First Person
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: 2019
Thomas’ The Hate U Give (THUG) was an absolute pleasure reading; the story is so open about REAL issues, and the characters are both lovable and memorable! After finishing this (FINALLY), I picked up On the Come Up immediately! Like its predecessor, Thomas doesn’t shy away from unveiling real issues on racism and discrimination. It’s a powerful, emotional and insightful story … one that we ALL can learn a little (or a lot) from!
Olivia @ Purely Olivia and I partook in a buddy read with Thomas’ On the Come Up. She’s an absolutely brilliant blogger with wonderful content and a warm, inviting vibe to her. To read her thoughts on Thomas’ story, please visit her @ Purely Olivia! (Once her review is up, I will post a link here).
CONTENT & TRIGGER WARNING: This book contains abuse (emotional; physical), drug abuse, hate crimes, loss of a loved one (murder), police brutality, racism, and violence (gun and physical).
The writing style and narrative are INCREDIBLE! Really, some authors need to learn from Thomas … I was BLOWN AWAY by the writing! Thomas captures Bri’s VOICE so much in the narrative and dialogue portions of the novel that Bri ended up feeling like a real person. I could FEEL how Bri felt when she was angry and scared and frustrated … as though I was in that moment with her. But it goes beyond this! Even the word choices bring Bri’s character to life. But my FAVOURITE element to On the Come Up is the insert of the rap, and well-written rap I might add. It makes the whole experience feel more powerful and authentic.
After reading THUG, I always wondered what happened with Garden Heights … now I know! Through the story progression and Bri’s day-to-day life, readers discover the aftermath and outcome of the events in THUG. Crime rate, the communities feeling on personal safety, police presence, the buildings and homes effected by the riots … they’re all touched upon in On the Come Up. Furthermore, Thomas demonstrates how it has effected the simple parts of life through Bri and the other characters.
On the Come Up is exemplary at illustrating diversity and facing real issues head on — beautifully and unapologetically. Sexual orientation, fighting gender stereotypes, ethnic diversity, different income classes and brackets … On the Come Up adds a whole new level to the INCLUSION of different social groups and the complex variety of unique individuals in society — it’s rather refreshing. And like THUG, On the Come Up doesn’t shy away from tackling social stigmas, stereotypes and discrimination that many refuse to acknowledge — white privilege, homophobia, racism, hypocrisy and much more. Bri’s journey to becoming a rapper exhibits this by the racism and stereotyping she faces, as many make the wrong assumptions about her raps for they portray her as a hoodlum … both by the colour of her skin and where she comes from. It’s content like THIS that needs to be explored more, for it happens all too often. Society comes and blames a person or a song or a film, rather than looking at the REAL issues. IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP!
Though it’s a sadder element to the novel, Thomas demonstrates how certain choices and actions have consequences. This was both a lovely and heart-wrenching element to the novel, for so many undeserving characters faced ramifications for choices they made, both small and large. Drugs, illegals acts, lying, aggressive behaviour … a large number of the characters have to “do the time” in a sense. It’s hard to read, especially the more illegal acts, for many of us will never understand the desperate circumstance people are under before they go down these roads … but I think it was important for Thomas to show this, because life isn’t like a fiction novel … actions have consequences, and some of them are more dire than others.
As wonderful as it is to talk about THE ISSUES, there was WAY too much going on. Seriously, it was rather overwhelming — it’s as though Thomas was trying to address ALL the issues at once. Drug dealing and addiction, low income households, stereotypes, gangs, discrimination, racism, family turmoil, friendship hardships … and then let’s add some romance in the pile too. Again, I love Bri’s story, but ALL of these things started to take away from her rapping. By the end, I felt as though something was missing, making the novel feel incomplete.
On the Come Up has a powerful message, but it didn’t feel as immense as THUG. Like many people who went into this, I tried NOT to compare it to THUG — they’re two different books with different stories to tell. But I couldn’t give this a 5 star rating when I rated The Hate U Give a 5 star. The global implications of THUG just weren’t met with this novel — THUG was revolutionary, hitting a wider audience and really relating to some MAJOR issues at the present (and unfortunately current) time … I was in tears throughout the entire read. With On the Come Up, similar topics of discrimination and prejudice are discussed but it felt less powerful.
As much as I love the characters, my love did not fall as deep. Again … trying NOT to compare to THUG, but I honestly wasn’t even trying to. The characters are BRI-lliant (see what I did there), but I felt like I knew the cast of THUG on a personal level … not just Starr — ALL the main/reoccurring characters. The depth’s there but just less so than its predecessor. And as much as I love Bri’s feisty nature, she was sometimes too much for me. Her aggressive and secretive nature were mostly understandable, but sometimes overwhelming.
Thomas’ On the Come Up is a wonderful young adult story, uncovering the ongoing prejudice and discrimination that’s apparent in our world today. Rather than sugar coating it, Thomas faces it all head-on, showing the world how we can improve as both individuals and as a society. The real life references (i.e. Star Wars and Black Panther) and the emphasis on family and friendship make this novel even more enjoyable and relatable, reaching a wider audience. If you loved THUG OR just want a realistic fiction novel that explores social issues while also exploring the day-to-day life of a feisty and independent young woman, pick up a copy of On the Come Up!