Angie Thomas has continued followed up a great story, The Hate U Give, with another great story, On the Come Up. Taking place in the same city where Starr watched her friend become the victim of police violence Bri is trying to make her mark on the world with rap.
Bri lives for rap; it’s in her blood. Her father was a rapper before he was murdered on his doorstep and she got his love of rap and talent for spinning verses. But, just as important, Bri dreams of making it big so she can support her mother and brother, who are struggling to make ends meet. Making it big means that they would always have food in the fridge and their power wouldn’t get shut off when they’re behind on the bills. If she could make a career out of rap, it would mean safety and security for her and family. And you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the weight of her problems, reaching for that lifeline along with Bri, and getting wrapped up in her world.
Bri, like the people around her, feel like real people. Bri’s in love with one of her best friends. She’s afraid that her family will end up on the streets. She loves her mom, but is always a little afraid that the world might get a little too tough and she’ll lose her to drugs again. Her brother got a college degree in psychology, but since university he’s found it difficult to get a job that pays above minimum. Her aunt Pooh deals is in a gang, and deals drugs, despite the fact that drugs nearly destroyed her sister.
So Bri’s a girl ready to pay the cost to make it in the rap game, even if some white woman from the middle of the country thinks she’s a thug, or if her lyrics are controversial.
“You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream,
Just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also saying Bri.”
On the Come Up is a masterclass in weaving together tough modern realities into a coherent story. The portrayal of black culture, people and music in the media. The magnetic pull of gang life. Persona vs reality. The line between making it and the sacrifice of what you give up to get there. Drugs. Guns. Violence. Thomas somehow manages to pack the novel with a wide assortment of themes and issues into the narrative, and making it feel natural, where another author might have made it feel like an after-school special.
Bri and her story have a real power over you that you feel, long after you’ve put the book down. It deals with heavy issues, but it isn’t itself a heavy book. There are equal moments of joy and humour as there is sadness and dark truth. On the Come Up is the perfect follow up to The Hate U Give. It’s a modern classic with the emotional staying power for years to come. I challenge you to forget Bri or this novel anytime soon.