Wednesday, February 13, 2019

On the Come Up

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)

So I went to see Angie Thomas speak last week (!) and the ticket price included a copy of her new book. This is great news because I had gotten on the library hold list kind of late and would have had a long wait. Anyway, she was SO great and if you ever get a chance to see her you should definitely do so. She was funny and interesting and had some great stories and she even rapped a bit.

But let's talk about the book! It takes place about a year after the events of The Hate U Give, but it's not a sequel. It simply takes place in the same neighborhood and you do see how people are affected, but the characters from the two books don't even know each other. (As Angie Thomas pointed out last week, "Not all black people know each other.") Anyhow, our protagonist is a high school girl named Brianna who wants to make it as a rapper. She goes to the Ring to have a rap battle with this guy named Milez who already has some notoriety for his song "Swagarific" and she beats him handily. She then releases a song called "On the Come Up" which goes viral, but gives all the wrong impressions about her and there are some unanticipated consequences.

First I need to mention that I've never been into rap or hip hop, but I can totally appreciate the skill. When Bri competed freestyle, it was sort of mind-boggling to me that people just make up these rhymes as they go. You're writing and performing at the same time and that takes an amazing amount of talent. This book has already been optioned as movie and I think it's going to be great just because of all the music that will be in it. But also, I know sometimes the songs talk about guns and violence and whatnot, but I kind of assumed we know it's just talk, right? Well, in Bri's song when she talks about having guns people take it seriously. This was interesting because I've always assumed there's a certain amount of fiction in songs - the artists try to create an image for themselves, like sounding touch, but we're not supposed to take it literally. That wasn't true here. People took it literally.

Another thing that added to Bri's notoriety was an incident with the security guards at school, in which they threw her down on the ground and cuffed her and it was captured on video. It was very unjust, and that story unfolded throughout the novel as well.

While this all was going on, Bri's mom Jay was in a rough spot. She lost her job at the church where she worked (which was related to the riots that happened during The Hate U Give) and the family was really struggling to stay afloat. Bri's older brother Trey had a job, but he didn't make much money, and Jay forbade Bri to get a job because she wanted her to focus on school.

One of the things I really liked about The Hate U Give was Star's parents because they were such well-developed characters, which is unusual in teen books. I loved Bri's mother too - she is definitely flawed, but she's such a strong, determined woman who has overcome drug addiction and is trying to really provide for her family. They're struggling though, and her relationship with Bri hasn't been the same since she left the kids to live with their grandparents all those years ago.

There was a lot to like here. Bri wanted more than anything to be a rapper, and was starting to gain local fame, but of course that comes with responsibility and a lot of complicated decisions. Her Aunt Pooh was acting as her manager, but then an actual professional manager wanted to take her on, but he had plans for her that she was not super on-board with. (Oh, and he was also manager for her father, a famous rapper who died young. I told you there's a lot going on in this story!) Plus, there were teenager-y things happening with her best friends, Malik and Sonny, and she was starting to have feeling for this boy Curtis who she had always sort of ignored before.

Ultimately, this is a story about a teenager finding her voice and learning about who she is and what's important to her. There's a whole cast of well-developed characters surrounding her and I enjoyed their stories just as much as hers. These are all realistic, flawed people who are just living their lives as best they know how, but of course making lots of mistakes along the way. It all felt real, and I found myself really excited for Bri and her future. I was super impressed with Angie Thomas's first novel, and this one is every bit as good.

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