Review of On the Come Up

On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    453 pp.    g
2/19    978-0-06-249856-4    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-249857-1    $12.99

If reading The Hate U Give (rev. 3/17) was like listening to 2Pac, intent on capturing the emotional impact of injustice, On the Come Up is more like Biggie, focusing on the experience of “coming up” while refusing to deny the complexity of moving out of one’s community through education, notoriety, or fame. Sixteen-year-old Bri attends a public arts high school and dreams of being a rapper like her father, who was murdered in a gang shooting outside their house when Bri was young. Her mother, a recovering addict, and her studious older brother, recently admitted to graduate school, work hard as they worry about making ends meet, and they face the perpetual indignities of a world that unfairly judges poverty as lack of character. After winning a rap battle in her neighborhood (the same setting as The Hate U Give), Bri — who is already known at her school since being thrown to the ground by security officers — becomes “hood famous.” Doors start to open; her father’s old manager wants to take her on as a client — but it comes at a price Bri isn’t sure she is willing to pay. The narrative builds to a crescendo that forces Bri to decide who she wants to be as a rapper and a person. With sharp, even piercing, characterization, this indelible and intricate story of a young woman who is brilliant and sometimes reckless, who is deeply loved and rightfully angry at a world that reduces her to less than her big dreams call her to be, provides many pathways for readers. Secondary characters — including Bri’s two best guy friends and her fiercely protective drug-dealing gang-member aunt, along with her strict but loving paternal grandparents — make for a remarkably well-rounded cast. A love letter to hip-hop, with Bri’s lyrics and her thought process behind them included throughout, this richly woven narrative touches on themes familiar to Thomas’s readers, such as the over-policing of black bodies and navigating beloved communities that are also challenged by drugs and violence.

From the March/April 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Christina Dobbs
Christina Dobbs
Christina Dobbs is an assistant professor of English Education at Boston University. She is a former high school teacher, literacy coach, and reading specialist, and she studied adolescent literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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