Angie Thomas is now an autobuy, she has some serious skills with a pen.
Waterstones Children's Book Prize-winning author
New York Times #1 bestselling author
The highly anticipated second novel from Angie Thomas returns to the world of Garden Heights for 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.
- ISBN10 1406372161
- ISBN13 9781406372168
- Publish Date 7 February 2019 (first published 8 January 2019)
- Publish Status Active
- Publish Country GB
- Imprint Walker Books Ltd
- Format Paperback
- Pages 304
- Language English
Angie Thomas is now an autobuy, she has some serious skills with a pen.
I don't recommend listening to the audio book sped up (at least maybe not at 2x). I think it took away from that performance.
Tensions are high in Garden Heights since a young black man was killed by police officers, the subsequent rioting has resulted in a heavy police presence throughout the suburb, including Midtown School of the Arts where Brianna attends school. Her mother wants Brianna to concentrate on her education but for Brianna, since the tender age of only ten years old, she's wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and rap her to a better life for her mother and brother.
Brianna is a tenacious young woman, proud of her African American heritage and culture, of who is she and where she's from. Garden Heights. Readers will remember the Garden Heights community from Angie Thomas' debut novel The Hate U Give and although the two narratives do not converge, we're reintroduced to the Disciples, the local gang and the Crowns, a rival gang on the east side and those responsible for taking the life of Lawless. Brianna and her family live below the poverty line, working is a necessity to make ends meet. We're introduced to Brianna as their gas has been shut off and her mother is struggling to pay their rent, the cupboards are all but bare and her college graduate brother has returned home and now works in a small pizzeria and yet, there's little money to afford food never mind to replace Brianna's shoes.
The hardship the Jackson family are experiencing is harrowing so when Brianna's mother Jay loses her job, she has no other option but to quit night school and seek welfare, handouts and food stamps to survive. With winter fast approaching, the chill in the air is a reminder of why so many young people of Garden Heights turn to gang life. The companionship of family and making money to survive despite the odds, including Brianna's Aunt Pooh who begun running with the Disciples shortly after her brother was murdered.
Rapping is in Brianna's blood. Affectionately known as Lil' Law, Brianna is about to make her debut at the Ring, a local club known for it's amateur rap battles and star making potential. Think Eminem's 8 Mile. Through her lyrics, Brianna tells the story of being a young black woman in a world created for white people, about the assumptions made upon black communities, stereotyping and racial profiling. She raps about real world problems facing her community, drugs, violence and being all about that life. Who you run with and who you run from. After her success in the Ring, when she's roughed up at school by security guards and thrown to the floor, something has to give. While students begin to protest against the racial profiling of black and latinx students, Brianna begins penning her breakout track, On The Come Up.
Brianna Jackson refuses to become a stereotype based on assumptions. She is determine to rap about her experiences, she's a contender not a pretender. She comes up against a sexist and opportunistic industry where young artists are taken advantage of. Their image no longer their own as they are shaped and modelled into a product for consumers, told to play their part and luring often underprivileged young adults with gifts and the promise of a easier life for their families, not necessarily better.
No doubt readers will compare On The Come Up to The Hate U Give but where Starr Carter was finding her voice in a hostile environment fulled by revolution, Brianna demands to be heard, a beacon of hope within her community and for young black women wanting to thrive in the male dominated rap industry. I enjoyed the narrative but not Brianna herself. I understand the animosity of your only parent unable to care for her children and choosing their drug dependency but Brianna showed very little respect for her mother who fought her way back from addiction for her children. Brianna calls her mother by her first name and held her at arms length. I felt an incredible amount of sadness for her mother who is an inspiring woman in her own right. Understandably the experience has hardened Brianna but I felt she often treated her mother with undeserving disrespect while holding her Aunt Pooh, a gang member and drug dealer on a pedestal.
On The Come Up is a quiet novel, challenging stereotypes and the prejudiced faced by young black men and women in particular. How young black women are spoken over, how they fight to create safe spaces for themselves and their voices. Although I didn't like Brianna, I loved what she represented. A strong, young black woman on the cusp of great things without compromising who she is and what she stands for.
I've been mildly worried about this book. Second books are always hard but how do you follow up a phenomenon like The Hate U Give? I didn't want to hear a lot of snide talk about, "It's good but it isn't The Hate U Give." I was lucky enough to be able to get a copy from the library on release day. I stayed up past my bedtime to read it all in one sitting. Good sign. What do I think?
It's good but it isn't The Hate U Give.
The good thing is that it isn't trying to be. This is a much smaller, more personal story. It is set in Garden Heights a year after the events in THUG. It is referenced a few times as 'when that kid got killed last year'. They are still dealing with increased police presence in the neighborhood that she says is meant to look friendly but really means that they are being watched.
Bri is the younger child of an up and coming rapper who was killed by a gang outside her house. Her mother got addicted to drug following the murder. Bri and her older brother Trey lived with her father's parents until her mother got clean. Their grandmother and mother still have a very contentious relationship because of this. Trey just graduated from college but can't find a job in his field and is home working at a pizza place.
Bri's mom loses her job as a church secretary because the church can't afford to fix the damage from the riots a year ago and pay her too. Their financial situation was precarious before but now they need to decide which bills to pay. They even have to accept from help from Aunt Pooh, a gang member and drug dealer. Bri decides she needs to start making money from her music to help out.
She writes a song called On The Come Up. It references an incident where Bri got thrown on the ground by some security guards at school. She writes that no matter what she is actually doing she is perceived as a thug and as a gang member who is selling drugs and starting fights. The song is catchy and gets popular in the neighborhood. The problem is that the catchy parts that people sing along with are all about guns and being a gang member. People miss the "I'm not like this but people think it" beginning part. "Claiming to be into gang life" causes even more problems for Bri because that's not her and she doesn't know how to get out of the trouble it is causing. People are even using the song to justify what the security guards did at school. "See, she was a gang member.."
Perception vs reality is the major theme here
- When Bri gets publicly angry that people are misinterpreting her song and making assumptions about her, she gets praised by her manager for perfectly "playing the role of a ghetto hood rat".
- Aunt Pooh is a major supportive part of Bri's life but she is also a gang member who will disappear for days at a time to avenge some slight from another gang leaving people wondering if she is alive or dead.
- As a female rapper, it is assumed that Bri has someone writing her words for her instead of her speaking for herself.
I love all the interactions in this book. They feel so real. You can feel the bitterness and resentment between her mother and grandmother. I love the descriptions of church services. It is like a full contact sport of what you say vs what you actually mean.
This gets deep into what it is like day to day to be very financially insecure. Which bill gets paid? How long can you go with heat or electric? What is it like to have to go to a food giveaway at Christmas? Bri's mom was taking college classes but she can't do that and be eligible for food stamps so she has to drop out. That puts her even farther away from getting a better job to help out their situation. This review was originally posted on Based On A True Story
One of my favorite things about Thomas' novels is that while they tackle many social issues head on, they also still allow their protagonists to be teenagers dealing with more common teenage issues too. While Bri is a potential up and coming rap star she also still has to deal with school, ACT prep, friend group drama, etc. This was also balanced with larger issues that she was facing in her personal life as well, as her family is truly living paycheck to paycheck and is one paycheck away from living in poverty, having family members involved with the local gang and her constant worry for their safety, and her constant anxiety regarding her mother's sobriety. Bri is a character who is truly coming of age and while she has large obstacles to overcome, is still a stubborn, emotional teenager a times and acts out accordingly. However throughout the novel she grows and changes in a realistic way and while she does not outgrow her flaws (which wouldn't be realistic) she learns to acknowledge them and gain a better sense of self.
Bri's rap ambitions play a huge role in the book, and are often prioritized above her education (much to her family's dismay). There's also a sense of urgency that Bri must prove herself to be her daughter's father (who was a pretty famous rapper before he was murdered) while also stepping out of his shadow at the same time. One of the most compelling plot points in the book is the push and pull Bri encounters when seeking fame, as she struggles with the stereotypes that are placed upon her as a black female in the rap industry (especially due to some of her lyrics and the way the media tries to link them to certain events in the book) but is also tempted to lean into those stereotypes in order to reach success and have a more successful career (which in turn could help her family financially in a big way). As the story progresses readers will see Bri spiral deeper and deeper into an image that's been thrust upon her rather than cultivated herself and the consequences of either embracing it or trying to forge her own path.
Another element of Thomas' stories that I always find are incredibly well written are her character's families. Though On the Come Up is a stand alone novel (although a long one at over 400 pages) I truly felt like I got to know Bri's family, from her recovered drug addict mother who's doing her best to provide for her family, to her brother Trey who's struggling to find his place after graduating from college to her, to her Aunt Pooh who's chosen a more dangerous path in life but who loves her family dearly. Bri's paternal grandparents also play a huge role (and are hilarious at times) and I appreciated that they were shown as being such a strong support system for Bri, especially when in her past her parents were not able to (many children are brought up by relatives other than their parents and I think it's so important to show that they can be just as important as a parent).
Overall: On the Come Up is a solid second novel by Angie Thomas and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. While it didn't quite evoke the same emotional connection as THUG did for me (which is still one of the best YA books out there) I believe On the Come Up will still make an incredible mark in the YA genre.This review was originally posted on Girl in the Pages
My full book review is now up on Word Revel.
January 14, 2019
Initial thoughts: Excuse me while I collect myself. This book is so powerfully written, and demonstrates the hardships Bri has to deal with due to racism and poverty. On the Come Up challenges stereotypes and makes readers stop and think about the world we live in. I have too many and too few words to explain the impact this book had on me as reader. I'll take a day or two to process more before typing up a full review on my blog.
As with The Hate U Give, I agree with all who say that On the Come Up needs to be on everyone's radar.
Note: I received an advanced reading copy from a local distributor in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.