Angie Thomas outdoes herself with “On the Come Up”

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Angie Thomas outdoes herself with “On the Come Up”

"On the Come Up" book cover. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

"On the Come Up" book cover. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

"On the Come Up" book cover. Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

Melissa Ellin, Editor in Chief

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On Feb. 15, 2019, Angie Thomas’ second novel “On the Come Up” was released–I don’t know about you, but I put this book on hold at the library in May of 2018… May.

Boy was this book was worth the wait.

In “On the Come Up,” Thomas takes us back to Garden Heights, the city from her debut novel “The Hate U Give, but with a new main character: 16-year-old Brianna (Bri) Jackson. Bri’s an aspiring rap artist who’s trying to make it big for herself and help her mom who’s struggling to pay the bills. After an incident at school fuels her to write a song called “On the Come Up,” everything blows up, including her popularity, but it comes at a price. People start getting the wrong impression of who she is, and she has to figure out how to navigate through the deep waters she’s found herself in.

What made this book so great–other than the stellar writing (her voice is unique) and fearless approach to any and all topics–was Bri. I found myself genuinely laughing out loud at multiple points in this book not only because of Bri’s humor, but her surrounding cast as well.

Her best friends, Sonny and Malik, make for a perfect trio. Sonny’s like a brother, and Malik wants what’s best for her, even if he doesn’t always show it. Additionally, Her mom is basically every mom ever (she wants what’s best for her kids, but has some attitude too), and Trey is the ideal older brother (a close friend, yet also an overachiever).

Of course, with any novel, the plot has to be good, and although it had its pitfalls, this one was solid.

This book was relatable on so many levels, not just for black teens, but teens overall. I’m not black, but I found myself understanding Bri’s struggles on so many levels. We all get called out for having an “attitude” that’s not even present (ok, maybe sometimes it is, but you get the point). We all feel like we’re getting left out of our friend groups sometimes, and we all want to pursue our dreams.

Was it a bit far fetched that a 16-year-old finds herself making national television and fame one year after a serious police brutality case rolled through the same town? Yes, but that’s not a deal breaker, and it’s not as if it couldn’t happen. Besides, it was nice that I was able to come into the book with an understanding of the town’s inner workings (knowledge about the gangs and the people).

Additionally, what made this book special was the more overt assimilation of ideas such as police brutality and racial profiling. In “The Hate U Give,” there was a serious shooting, and in this book, Bri was racially profiled and assaulted at school. Both events made it to the headlines, but “On the Come Up” was about all aspects of Bri’s life, not just her race. Also, nobody died (except for Bri’s dad due to gang violence, and that was during her youth), and yet, as a reader, I was still able to feel like I’d learned something about these issues.

The fact that this book revolved around music helped. If there’s one thing anybody can connect with, it’s music. Thomas knows this better than anyone because she too was an aspiring rapper as a teen.

In an interview with “Audible Range” Thomas commented on the autobiographical notes within “On the Come Up.”

“[Bri] came to life over time and I started thinking about my own experiences as a teenager trying to pursue a rap career for a little bit and what that meant for me,” Thomas said. “So her story really did take bits and pieces from my own life, but eventually her story became her story and so I’m so happy with how it turned out.”

Thomas was able to seamlessly tie in Bri’s verses and take us through her thought process in a way that made me see hip hop in a new light, which makes sense considering Thomas went through a similar situation as Bri.

Nevertheless, the book wasn’t perfect. There were two things that really bothered me. One was the love triangle between Bri, Malik (the aforementioned best friend) and Curtis (Bri’s school mate and a Garden Heights resident). This book was already taking a lot on, and I felt like the love triangle got in the way of some of the other plot points. Also, in this book, and “The Hate U Give,” Thomas’ main characters had feelings for their best guy friend. Believe it or not, it is possible to be straight, and have a platonic relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Still, she’s not the only author who’s done this, and it wasn’t the main focus for the book.

The other thing that bothered me was the epilogue. Normally, I’m all for an epilogue–it’s a chance for the readers to get one last glimpse at the characters we’ve come to love (or hate), but I felt like this epilogue was overkill. In the initial ending, not everything was resolved, and it worked. Thomas went too far in tying up loose ends in the afterward. She went back to things that, as a reader, were pretty easy to infer upon, and the ending without the epilogue was extremely powerful. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a deal breaker for me (although I may choose to pretend the epilogue was never written–”Epilogue? What epilogue?”).

“On the Come Up” was a stellar read. Hands down, one of my favorite YA (Young Adult, get with the lingo) books of 2019, and yes, I realize it’s only February. Let’s just say, if this was a movie, it’d be a must-see-in-theaters film.

To quote Thomas, “You can’t spell brilliant without Bri,” and you can’t spell awesome without “On the Come Up.” Technically you can, but the point is, you need to read this book ASAP!

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