On the Come Up is a coming-of-age story about Bri who wants to make a name for herself in the rap game like her father, Lawless. She stands out in her first rap battle and a song that propels her into infamy. And between all that, she and her family find themselves struggling to make ends meet as she gets swept up in an incident involving racial profiling at her school.
On the Come Up is an excellent follow-up for Angie Thomas. I didn’t think I would like this one as much as I liked The Hate U Give but I was pleasantly surprised. The book tackles some of the same themes of poverty, discrimination, negative stereotypes and the tightrope many black and brown kids have to walk in inner-city communities.
The book does an excellent job illustrating the inherent poetry of rap, showing Bri’s process of coming up with rhyme and flow. Bri wants to make it and feels like she must compromise aspects of herself to make it in the rap world. This is a running theme throughout the book. Bri is labeled many things– a drug dealer, hoodlum, ratchet, loud black woman–which are forced upon her by people outside herself. Bri knows she isn’t any of these things. She can be headstrong and quick to anger but based on these universal traits, she’s labeled as something to suit the interest and biases of others.
“So who are you?”
“Who are you?” [Jay] repeats. “Of the millions and billions of people in the world, you’re the only one who can answer that. Not people online or at your school.”
The book deftly tackles what it means to be yourself. This is especially powerful for people of color who sometimes find themselves trying to avoid definitions imposed by others and society at large. I loved the nuance that Thomas uses to tackle this struggle.
I wholeheartedly loved this book!
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.