It’s hard to read a bestselling author’s second book without thinking about the first one and comparing. I was worried that I would start On The Come Up with too many expectations but I shouldn’t have been - I was hooked from page 1. Angie Thomas is an amazing storyteller.
I will mention The Hate You Give once, and that’s just to say that Bri is not Starr. Don’t go into the book thinking you are going to hang out with Starr and her family again, because you aren’t. But you will get to hang out with Bri and hers, and it’s just as fulfilling, I promise you. They are just completely different characters and On The Come Up is a completely different book.
Bri is sixteen and lives with her mother, Jay, and her older brother Trey. Her underground legend rap star father was shot down in front of their home when she was just a small kid, and Bri is determined to make it herself in the world of hip-hop. It takes just one battle for her to showcase just how talented she is, and one recording for everyone to be talking about her - just not in the way she really wanted it to happen.
I loved Bri. Yes, she makes ridiculously stupid decisions at time, and yes she’s impulsive and defensive. But she’s fighting against a whole load of messed up shit, and on all sides keeps getting told to just put her head down and get through it because in some way or another it will be worth it in the end. At the same time she sees her talented and university graduate brother working at the local pizza place with no other options around and her mother struggling to find a job that will cover bills and rent. That coupled with the reality of constantly being singled out and punished more harshly than others at school because of the color of her skin makes it hard not to stand up and defend yourself. It’s not in Bri’s nature to put her head down and let things happen, she reacts and fights and claws her way into a place where she feels like she is being heard.
Bri’s relationship with her mother, who she calls Jay rather than Mom, is a tough one. I related to the ups and downs and the constant fear too. Something that comes from feeling/being abandoned as a child when a parent chooses addiction over the role of a parent. It takes a long time to get past that, no matter how long someone may have been sober.
The ongoing issue in the book with the school, the security guards, and the potential addition of police officers as “security” is also a very important one as it is very real. This is a current and very problematic issue that our school districts aren’t addressing accurately or directly. Having recently watched several local board meetings where board members threw around the acronym “SRO’s” with “partnership” as if they were normal and important events, we have to talk about this and fight against it both locally and nationally.
I love how Angie Thomas seamlessly writes YA fiction that is so current and so important, but also full of emotion, love, friendship, and family ties. I definitely think adults should read both of her books. Scratch that. Adults MUST read her books.