Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Teen/YA Review: On the Come Up

I've been so excited to read Angie Thomas' second teen/YA novel, On the Come Up, since her first novel, The Hate U Give, was so powerful, moving, and engrossing. I listened to both of them on audio, which I highly recommend because it feels like her female teen characters are telling their stories directly to you. On the Come Up was just as compelling and important as the much-lauded The Hate U Give.

Sixteen-year old Bri is having trouble concentrating in school and on ACT prep because she is so focused on her rap career (that and she keeps getting sent to the principal's office). Well, it's not a career yet, but Bri loves rap music and seems to have the same talent as her father, a well-known rapper who was murdered twelve years ago. When she gets a chance in The Ring, a spot that sponsors a local rap battle, she proves her talent. Her aunt, who acts as her manager, has been in a gang since her brother was shot by a rival gang, but she is determined to keep Bri far from that life. Others recognize Bri's talent, though, including her father's old manager, who wants to make Bri a star. Besides the usual allure of being a rap star for any kid, Bri sees this path as a way to save her family. Her mother (sober eight years), older brother, and she have been barely scraping by, even losing electric for a while when they can't pay the bill. When Bri's mom loses her job, they are reduced to needing food from a local charity and in danger of losing their house. Though she's been warned that this new manager might not have her best interests at heart and she is drifting away from her best friends, Sunny and Malik, Bri is determined to help get her family out of this hole. After being unfairly targeted by the security guards at school, Bri records an angry but brilliant song. Once her words get out onto the airwaves (and internet), though, they are out of Bri's control, and the consequences are serious as her intentions and subtle irony are lost.

This second novel is set in the same fictional neighborhood as The Hate U Give, Garden Heights, but provides a completely different view of life as a black teen girl. One of the few kids of color at her charter arts school, Bri is often unfairly called out for saying or doing things that are ignored when done by white kids. With her mom's history and the lack of decent jobs nearby, Bri's family's economic struggles are very real and clearly shown here. The author paints a picture of a family struggling to better themselves (Bri's brother has a college degree) but against horrible odds. In addition, the culture of rap music is explored in depth. I'm not much of a fan of rap myself, but Bri's ability to pull together rhyming, incredibly clever lyrics on the spot was impressive, even to someone like me who knows little about the genre. The real force of this novel comes in the way that Bri's words and actions are misunderstood, with social media multiplying those effects. As in The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas once again opened my eyes to seeing things through others' perspectives and making me think while also providing an entertaining, suspenseful, and engaging story of a strong young woman.

464 pages, Balzer + Bray

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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Listen to a sample of the excellent audio book here.

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Or you can order On the Come Up from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. This book is on my TBR and I am in-line for the audiobook. Glad you recommend it.

    1. You will love it, Anne - and sooo good on audio!

  2. I'm glad you liked this one; I think Angie Thomas has an important voice that needs to be heard.

  3. I loved Thomas' The Hate You Give, but I have not picked this one up yet - mostly because of the heavy RAP influence to the story line. I will eventually I think, but I need to find the right mood for it. I chose the audiobook edition for THUG as well, and Bahni Turpin was AMAZING in her performance narrating it! I see she has narrated this one as well, so I will likely do audio again when I do get to this book!

    1. Well, Christine, if it puts your mind at ease, I really don't like rap music at all (to put it mildly), and I LOVED this book! Plus, it opened my eyes to what's behind some of the rap lyrics. It's just as good as THUG :) Hope you enjoy it!