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On the Come Up, Angie Thomas

On the Come Up, the second novel by Angie Thomas, captures the reader yet again transporting us into the world of a black teenage girl in Garden Heights. Not a sequel to the first, Thomas shows us another set of challenges faced and new cast of characters but just as powerful a message. Although in the surface they may sound the same, they felt very different and fresh despite the on paper similarities.

This one follows 16 year old Bri who longs to be a rapper, just like her late father, and be heard by the world the way she wants to. If only she can make it she can help her ex drug addict Mum make ends meet, her Aunt get out of the gangs, her brother go to college like he deserves and finally everything might be ok. But it’s not easy and Bri has to decide what she is willing to sacrifice in the process.

“You can’t stop me on the the come up.”

What I love about this book is how real it feels. Angie Thomas has a great ability to be able to create a novel that embodies real life and doesn’t just seem like a set of plot points building towards a conclusion. Bri, her family and her friends felt like actual people, and I think this is in part because they were all flawed. Bri didn’t always do the right thing, and sometimes made bad decisions which although frustrating at times, gave legitimacy to her character, and by extension to the real struggles, and prejudices she faced. Because she felt like a real teenage girl, I could so easily picture the real life teenage girls she is representing and that was the power of this novel for me.

“You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream,
Just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also saying Bri.”

Bri isn’t exactly an easy to like character. She is stubborn, angry, too quick to act and too slow to think about the consequences of her actions but her growth throughout the book and the way she matures is part of On the Come Ups charm. Her relationships with everyone around her are also difficult with Bri often gravitating to those who don’t know what’s best but will let her do what she wants, and testing those who do truely have her best interests in mind. How these relationships and Bri change over time was a real focal point of the novel which I found interesting and enjoyable.

“There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.”

On the Come Up deals with a lot of important, and heavy issues including drugs, addiction, poverty, racism, gangs, violence and more. We see how these issues effect the community and each of our characters, adults and children a like. I think this novel finds a good way to tackle these heavy topics, exploring how they effects our characters personalities, lives and futures, through raw emotions rather than being too tied up in flowery prose. I was able to learn from Bri’s experiences, empathise with her, and also root for her.

“And I think you’re brilliant, talented, courageous, beautiful. You’re my miracle. But you’re the only one who can say who you are with authority. So, who are you?”

Lastly a highlight of this novel for me was the music. The novel is interwoven with raps that Bri both writes and performs. I generally like novels that include actual lyrics, but it can get weary if there are too many throughout. This one for me was probably about right, too much more and they would have started to blur for me, but I think On the Come Up hits the nail on the head in using music as a powerful way to communicate how Bri is feeling, but not becoming overpowering to the point where they would start to loose their meaning. 

Highly recommend this one along with The Hate U Give, if you haven’t already read it.

I read this for my 52 Book Club Reading Challenge prompt “a book you think they should read in schools”. You can check out my progress here.

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