On the Come Up by Angie Thomas follows a teenage girl through her rise in the local rap game as she learns to navigate her emotions around a traumatic event at her high school. Like Angie’s debut novel The Hate U Give, this story features a black teen girl trying to overcome obstacles in the fictional Garden Heights.
The daughter of the late rap legend Lawless, Bri is 16 and hungry to jump-start her rap career. Her Aunt Pooh becomes her unofficial agent by hooking Bri up with a chance at the main rap battle competition in the city. Once she steps up into the ring, Bri feels her nerves until the rapper across from her, Milez, disses her father. She never knew her father, but she knows he deserves the respect of every rapper in Garden Heights. She transfers that anger into her rhymes, emerging as the winner. She soon learns her competitor is the son of Lawless’ manager, Supreme. And Supreme sees the opportunity to make Bri a star. While riding the wave of future stardom, Bri is slammed against the floor at her school by two white security guards. As one of a few students of color at the historically white performing arts school, Bri knows she walks in those hallways with her skin color being seen as a threat. She takes that frustration and puts it into a song. Aunt Pooh warns Bri not to release that faux gangster front song, but when Aunt Pooh disappears, Bri decides to upload the song online. It goes viral but brings up a lot of negative attention Bri was not ready for.
The story is a great follow-up to The Hate U Give with a magnified focus on hip-hop and the lifestyles the musicians feel they have to assume due to stereotypes. Bri lives in the black underdeveloped neighborhood of Garden Heights with her Aunt Pooh, who’s in the gang Garden Disciples, and her father being murdered in the streets while at the top of his game because he was faking the lifestyle of being a hardened, weapon-strapped gangster. The juxtaposition of knowing who you are and knowing who others think you are follows Bri while other characters like Bri’s mother Jayda and Milez try to rise above the stereotypes. The school incident is unfortunately becoming viral with many kids of color being thrown to the ground by a white teacher or staffer over a disciplinary issue. Again, Angie weaves a racially charged issue into her book like the shootings of unarmed black people in The Hate U Give.
Overall, this is another hypnotic read from the author that dives deep into a realistic story that’s rare to find in today’s young adult literature.