Author: Angie Thomas
Rating: 5 Stars
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral . . . for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.
Angie Thomas has done it again and created a book that I have fallen completely in love with. I feel like I don't adequately have the words to describe how much I love this book.
This book follows Bri, a 16 year old from Garden Heights who wants to be a famous rapper. She lives with her mom and brother Trey and attends school at a predominately white school that felt they needed to "diversify" to make themselves look good. I mean, we could spend so much time just unpacking that shit.
Before I get into all that - let me start with my thoughts on the following:
I loved most of the characters in this book. But, even the ones that I just liked were still great. And, even the characters I hated (Long, Tate, and that stupid ass racist Karen) did add something to the story. I feel Angie Thomas did a great job developing these characters, and connecting them with each other and the world around them. She did a wonderful, if heartbreaking job, of developing her main character Bri - showing Bri's transformation from a teen who, understandably, thinks a lot about herself and what she wants to a young woman who is actually taking the time to learn who she really is and what she wants in her life. (Don't fight me - y'all know that even if they are smart and more than capable of growth, teenagers do think a lot about themselves. Luckily most of them grow out of it and also think about other people as well.) I was glad that Bri also finally found her voice and stood up to Supreme, because he was a bully and needed someone to stand up to him.
Other Character Based Things I Loved:
* Miles finally taking a step away from his dad (Supreme) and getting on his own two feet to be who HE really was instead of who Supreme wanted him to be.
* Jay (Bri's mother) doing what she needed to do to take care of her family. As a recovering drug addict living in a neighborhood that all to often glorifies drug use, she continued to fight for herself, her kids, and their livelihood. She got let go from her job at the church she worked at, and instead of letting it eat her a live when she was struggling to find a new job, she got help from the most unlikely of places (Law's parents) even though she had struggled with her relationship with Law's parents for so long. She is such a strong woman and I love her. Even though she's strong and tough, she's not afraid to cry, and to be soft and to be caring and sensitive and so much more. She is probably my favorite character in this entire book.
* I loved the relationship Bri had with her friends Sonny and Malik. Even when things between her and Malik went sour for a bit (kids fight, it's cool,) they were able to take a break, not knowing if that break would end or be permanent, and then they were able to find a way to start a healing process between them so that they could rebuild their friendship. I loved that Sonny's friends were all so supportive of him. Even in 2019, it is hard sometimes to be gay, and it's even harder with certain people in power making it seem like gay people are the enemies and that they deserve to be treated as less than human.
Angie Thomas has done a wonderful job in writing this book and developing the story. She works hard to show the struggles the characters have as well as all the good things they have and has a balance of both throughout this book. The entire book works well together from beginning to end. The plot moves smoothly, even when crappy things are happening (like the drug bust that ends with Bri's Aunt Pooh going to jail.) There wasn't a single thing in this book that didn't work.
I like that this story showed Bri standing up for herself as well. While I feel that books that show black people falling in love, and living happy lives, and having so many good things going for them, I feel it's good that books like OTCU exist as well, because it shows that there are people who struggle with violence and aggression and oppression as a result of the color of their skin. Now, keep in mind, I am speaking this from a place of incredible privilege as a white woman. So my take is going to be so different than the take that other people have. I won't ever know what it's like to experience what so many black people do have to go through just because they are black. I think it's important for white people to be aware of that and to be aware that reading books like this and THUG can help us at least be more aware of the world around us. Let's face it, y'all - white people (myself included) really do need to be more aware of the world around us and realize that the world doesn't start and end with us.
I say all that because I think it's important that this book included the drama with Long and Tate - the school security guards. I think it's important that this book showed that black kids at a predominately white school were targeted more than other kids. Bri was always accused of being "aggressive" for doing things like rolling her eyes, or asking a question in class. Literally, she had people tell her she was aggressive for asking questions! That doesn't happen to white kids. It just doesn't. Exploring this is important because it gave the characters a chance to fight for and advocate for change in their school. It gave them a chance to stand up for Bri when she got thrown to the ground by a grown man simply because she had candy in her backpack. It gave these kids a chance to fight against the inequality in their school, and to call out their school administrators for only accepting them so the school could get more money. It gave these kids the chance to call out Karen (whose name just had to be Karen) for being racist and assuming that the troubles at school only started after "certain kids" were brought in. People, come on - just because a person is black or brown doesn't mean they are trouble. I've seen so many white kids, first hand, do the stuff that black kids do and have nothing happen.
Long story short - it is so important for us to be aware of the world around us and to stand up for injustice like this everywhere.
So, reader friends - have you read this book? Talk to me and let me know what you thought in the comments!