ON THE COME UP by ANGIE THOMAS (2019)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
There hasn’t been a YA novel in recent history with quite as much buzz as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. After its release in 2017, THUG has gone on to win numerous (well-deserved) awards, be taught in schools, and even adapted into a movie. THUG’s timeliness and importance cannot be overstated. It is a deeply significant work—as it deals with police brutality and the killing of an unarmed black child—and one of my favorite reads of 2017. Fast forward to this year. 2019. Angie Thomas has released another book. It’s called On the Come Up, and instead of police brutality, OTCU tackles issues like drug addiction, homelessness, and the nuances of rap music. I loved it just as much as I thought I would.
On the Come Up follows 16-year-old Brianna Jackson, daughter of a locally famous rapper who went by the name Lawless. After being murdered in a gang-related shooting, Brianna is left to cope with her mother, who struggles with addiction, and her older brother Trey, who has sacrificed getting his master’s degree to help his struggling family with bills. The Jacksons live in the neighborhood of Garden Heights, an area riddled with poverty and gang activity. Bri’s own aunt, Aunt Pooh, is a member of the Garden Disciples, a gang constantly at war with the Crowns. Despite the struggles, Bri goes to an arts school and works tirelessly on her music. After one of her raps goes viral, she realizes her own talent, as well as the cost of being famous (or infamous) and black in America.
As I mentioned above, I loved THUG and I love On the Come Up. THUG may pack a more emotional punch, but OTCU is not without its own voice. Both books have important things to say and both are valid in their own right. That being said, I almost prefer OTCU over THUG, one of the main reasons being the raps Angie Thomas has written within OTCU’s pages. Angie Thomas used to be a rapper herself, and it shows in the rhymes she creates. Every single one of Bri’s raps are insightful and powerful and flow so nicely that I could imagine them being made into actual songs. Bri herself is a great character, and her circle of friends are all delightful to read about as well. Every character has their own distinct personality and interests and they all have goals outside of what we can see from Brianna’s point of view.
My favorite character in this entire book, however, is Brianna’s mother, Jayda. Jay for short. Jay is a recovering drug addict and works tirelessly to provide for her family. I found her story to be the most compelling out of anyone’s, even Bri’s. She is a working mother, a recovering addict, an aspiring counselor, and a loving yet stern parent wrapped into one great character. I loved seeing the relationship she had with Bri and Trey and that she was always present throughout the story (unlike many parents in YA).
Like THUG, OTCU covers a variety of important topics: Drug addiction, racial profiling, gang violence, and more. Each topic is handled deftly and seriously, and it isn’t just used as background music for Brianna’s story. Everything Brianna, a black girl, experiences in this book is very much true to life as we know it today. Angie Thomas doesn’t try to sanitize anything, nor is she insensitive. She strikes the perfect, and the result led me to flying through all four-hundred pages of this book with ease.
On the Come Up is the perfect sophomore novel for Angie Thomas. I had high expectations after THUG, and OTCU didn’t just meet them, it surpassed them. You can check out our copy at the Oreana Library today!