BOOK REVIEWS,  FICTION

BOOK REVIEW : ON THE COME UP BY ANGIE THOMAS

I’ve always had this theory that God is a sitcom writer who loves to put me in ridiculous situations.

– ANGIE THOMAS (ON THE COME UP)

TITLE : On the come up

AUTHOR : Angie Thomas

GENRE : Contemporary fiction, YA

FBRC RATING : 5 stars

BLURB :

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. 

FBRC REVIEW :

On the come up was on my list for a while. I am new to Angie Thomas’s books. I know.. I know.. I am late to the party and I have missed the brilliance of Angie Thomas. I guess I started with this book as it’s the most recent of her works. This book is about the art of hip-hop and using it to give voice and life to a group of people who have had ENOUGH!!

I have heard Angie is great at powerful, unapologetic portrayal of the struggles of the Black people that; you are left with no choice, but acknowledge it. I loved her writing and the poetry she brought into the story was potent in its delivery. On the come up is the story of a young girl Brianna known as Bri to her loved ones. She is headstrong, expresses herself through her poetry and is petty as heck. I loved the fact that she was strong-minded, loving and loyal. Bri’s character is of a teen who is struggling with her identity and her battle for recognition through hip-hop. 

Bri is a complex character and I found her to be an interesting character who showed her weakness and flaws. She recognized her flaws and imperfections and accepted them to move on from them. I loved her growth and dedication in this book. I wanted her to get her “come up”. She was rude and disrespectful at times with her loved ones. At times you see her pettiness and sass coming through. We see an angry, resentful teen depending on getting her “come up” to get rid of her family’s problems. Bri attaches importance to money and fame to help resolve the issues her family is facing. This leads her into one mistake after the other. Her relationship with most characters in this book was complicated and this book takes us through her tumultuous relationships. Bri finds meaning to her life in her poetry and her days are filled with finding rhymes. Her journey is beautiful and I enjoyed the poetry as well. Her songs were about her life and the events that made who she is. They were heartfelt and superb. The clever rhymes and the life situations made the poetry poignant and impressive.

I can understand people saying they found Bri a bit difficult to like. I believe her complexity is what made me love her character. The story starts with her awaiting the call of the famous DJ Hype for an invite to rap in THE RING. She is looking forward to the opportunity to battle and make her mark in the rapping world. Her father was a famous rapper and everyone around reveres him. Her father’s death is a major event that made her family fall like dominoes. Her mother Jay started using drugs and got addicted to it. This, in turn, led her mom leaving Bri and her older brother Trey with her father’s parents. Bri is angry at the world and her situation finds that her resentment towards the situation is because of her helplessness. She has no control over the things happening in her life. 

Bri’s relationship with her mother is sad to read about. She wants to forgive and trust her mom but is unable to do so with their history. Jay’s mistake of using drugs and leaving her kids left a huge chasm in their bond. I loved Jay and how she overcomes and battles her addiction is remarkable. Her love for her children eclipses her need for everything else. Jay is fighting on a day to day basis to keep a roof over their heads. Her job, her classes and the difficulties she faces at home is threatening the balance of her family. She is protective and tough on Bri. We see the tension in their interactions that makes Bri challenge her mom at every step.

Trey, Bri’s older brother is the golden child of the family. He is dependable, smart and the glue that holds the family together. He is a psychology graduate and his lack of a job in his field makes the family anxious. He works at a pizza parlor and is helping out the family. Bri ‘s relationship with her brother is simple and filled with love and understanding. He is the calm to her storm and helps her through some of her impulsive decisions. I would say he is the voice of reason that guides her in this book and the one voice she is willing to listen to without fighting back and being defensive.

Malik and Sonny are Bri’s best friends. They grew up together. They are called the unholy trinity. I loved their bond and camaraderie. We get to see some teenage drama and the repercussions it has on their lives. 

Aunt Pooh, Jay’s sister has an influential role in Bri’s life. We see Bri following Aunt Pooh and even looking for approval from her. Aunt Pooh is not your conventional aunt. She is heavily involved with Gangs and drugs. Aunt Pooh has also influenced Bri’s love for hip-hop. We see the duo discussing the songs and even recording one that catapults Bri into fame.

I loved Curtis and how Bri’s attitude towards him did a complete 180. He is funny and adorable. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. We see how their assumptions about each other were wrong due to their lack of communication. The shift in their relationship is also interesting to watch.

The bad blood between the grandparents and Jay is also something that leads to a lot of tension between the families. Bri tries to make peace with the two families. The family tensions are also resolved towards the end of the book. Love for the kids conquers the pride, ego, and differences the families had previously. 

Supreme as a character gave me unpleasant vibes. He is money-hungry and is one of the reasons why we see Bri ending up in conflicts. He is someone you need to keep an eye on and cannot be trusted. 

Miles without a z is an interesting character. You see him being pushed around by his dad Supreme. We get to see the influence his dad has on him and the paths he takes. I loved how he was the reason why Bri was able to turn her life around to bring positive out of the mistakes she made.

Overall the characters in this book make us think about our lives and actions we take in similar situations. The story was impressive and had a beautiful message.

MY THOUGHTS :

On the come up is a book that talks about some of the important social problems in our communities. This book needs to be read by everyone. A story for those who love their family and would sacrifice everything for the sake of their happiness. This is the story of a young girl trying to figure out her identity without a safety net and falling into one mistake after the other. She is forced to live a harsh life and her social situations do not help her journey. The treatment of the brown and black people and the discrimination the young kids have to face even in school is appalling. I find myself lucky to have never had that experience in my life and my heart goes to everyone who had to face the injustices they encounter on a day-to-day basis because of their color. It is disturbing to see how people are targeted because of the color of their skin, the place they come from or simply because they don’t look like you. 

To know that even in 2019 we are still going through these problems makes me angry at the double standards people are forced to endure. The sufferings of any individual who are different from us cannot be justified by any means and should not be tolerated. Books like these need to be written, stories like this need to be told to bring forward the injustice and discrimination people face every day in their lives. 

Bri’s story and her struggle help us to understand the intricacies involved in the music industry and how greed for money, influences and motivates people. Her struggle in moving forward and how she is treated and understood by people around her based on her gender is also worth focusing on. The gender-bias and the double standard people attach to the songs and the type of songs a woman can write and perform is notable. The male privilege and freedom when it comes to the industry and how difficult it’s to navigate for a woman let alone a young female. The path to gaining respect is long and filled with hurdles to bring her down.

The Long and Tate incident in the book helps us understand how the power system works. The targeting of black and brown people and the humiliation they face is offensive at this day and age. The way Bri gets into trouble at school and how gets singled out for her minor issues is sickening. We need to do more, bring more awareness towards these situations.

The division in the community because of the gangs is something worth discussing. The lives lost due to the power shifts and the struggle for stability in these communities is real and devastating. We need more safety and stability for the young kids that are growing up around guns, gangs, and drugs. This is not the life they deserve. Living in fear is not the way to move forward. 

I enjoyed the book. I recommend it to everyone interested in books that talk about social problems and their impact on the society we live in. Having read this book and enjoying it immensely, I want to check out her other books as well.

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