On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

otcuIn On the Come Up, Angie Thomas builds upon the vivid world of Garden Heights that she introduced to readers in her #1 New York Times bestseller debut, The Hate U Give. But this time, instead of Starr Carter narrating this story, readers are introduced to sixteen year old Bri Jackson, daughter of underground rap legend Lawless. Like her father, who was killed in a gang-related shooting when she was little, Bri dreams of becoming a legendary rapper (that is when she’s not taking ACT prep courses or geeking out over tweety bird).

You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream/just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also/ saying Bri

I found On the Come Up even more compelling than its blockbuster predecessor, perhaps because of Bri’s similarity to Thomas, who writes in her dust jacket biography that she was once a rapper. However, instead of Bri’s musical ambitions, what stuck out most to me was the conflict between Bri’s upper-middle class arts school and her working class roots.

Although it was only one part of the story, Bri’s school felt in some ways very similar to the school I attend. Just like Bri’s school, my school makes attempts at diversity but clearly struggles with issues relating to race and class. During scenes like a school board meeting or student protest, I couldn’t help thinking, how would this play out at my school? This is where I felt Thomas’ writing shined the most.

Just like she did in The Hate U Give, Thomas presents ideas of classism and racism in stories, such as a journey to a food pantry or a struggle to find a job after prison, in a way that educates without lecturing. This superpower makes On the Come Up just as necessary as The Hate U Give– but in a completely different way.

My one hesitation with the story comes in its structure. There is no central plot line, instead there is three: a struggle with racism in school, class at home, and ambition all alone. These storylines are all interconnected and equally crucial to the overall plot, but together they gave the book a slowness that I was not expecting.

Overall, One the Come Up was incredible. It blended Thomas’ signature wit and her unflinching commitment to truth as she writes stories where black girls find their voice.  I cannot urge you enough to pick it up when it hits shelves February 5.

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