Welcome back, my lovely people.
Think back to 2017, when The Hate U Give was first released in bookstores. I remember walking past it every time I wanted to buy a book, and I always told myself that I would buy it next time I had money. I never did.
The movie came out in 2018, and I meant to read the book and then see the movie. I didn’t. In fact, I watched the movie for the first time last week.
I did, however, buy another book by Angie Thomas. On the Come Up is the follow-up story to The Hate U Give. It’s set one year later, in the same community.
Bri: Bri really wants to be a rapper. It’s wha she’s good at. It’s something her dad did. The problem is, she lives in Garden Heights, a community plagued by gang activity, drugs, and poverty. The only rappers that seem to get headway are guys who rap about nothing of substance.
Jay: Jay is Bri’s formerly drug-addicted mother. She was gone for a few years and came back to fight for her kids. Now, she’s trying to support her family alone, on a single income and while staying clean and out of the gangs.
Trey: Bri’s brother graduated college and had to come back to Garden Heights afterward. His pizza-store income is helping to support his family.
Sonny and Malik: Bri’s close friends are supportive but don’t let her do stupid stuff. They’re all studying together for the ACTs, all with the dream of getting out of Garden Heights.
Aunt Pooh: Pooh isn’t her real name, but it’s what she goes by. She’s Bri’s deceased dad’s sister, and she’s one of the Garden Disciples (gang). She wants to support Bri’s rapping career.
Supreme: Bri’s dad’s old manager. He’s gotten his clients amazing deals, and managed to get himself and his son out of the Heights and into the suburbs. God knows why he keeps coming back.
Grandma and Granddaddy: These two took care of Bri and Trey while their mom went of and did drugs for years. They don’t approve of Jay, and they constantly ask Trey and Bri to move back in.
Curtis: Curtis goes to Bri’s church. He likes Bri. That’s basically all he is. He’s supportive.
Years after her father’s gang-related death and her mom’s disappearance and later recovery from drug addiction, Bri is invited to the Ring, where she rap-battles a (semi) famous kid from her neighborhood. She wins. Easily.
Her battle goes viral, and her Aunt Pooh gets her in the studio. She writes and records a song, and she releases it a few days later.
It goes viral, too, because she raps about carrying guns and participating in gang activity, which she doesn’t so. Her classmates and friends, along with thousands of strangers, love it and share it without understanding that she was rapping about what others expect of her, not what she actually does. Her song is used as ammunition in protests, fights, and other violent acts, and she gains media attention nation-wide.
All the while, she’s dealing with racism, stereotypes, and poverty. When her mom loses her job, they only have her brother Trey’s minimum-wage income to put food on the table, and Bri feels that the only way to help her family and herself is to become a successful rapper.
Supreme, her dad’s old manager, and the manager of Dee Nice, who has a million-dollar record deal, shows up with the promise to make her famous.
First things first: I’m not going to rate this one.
I’m not going to give it a score out of five. Why?
Because I. Know. Nothing.
With all of the other books I’ve read, I could see myself in the characters. Struggling with sexuality, with body image, and with family issues is something I can relate to. With all of those other books, I also had something to compare it to. At this point, I have read a lot of books about all of those things I just listed, and more. It’s easy to compare books when I’ve read stuff like that before.
On the Come Up, on the other hand, was new to me. I can relate to money problems, but that’s about it. I’ve never wanted to be a best-selling musical artist. And I’ve certainly never had to deal with racism, because I am a white woman.
What I will say is this: On the Come Up is important. It is vital. It is necessary.
That’s not to say that it’s perfect, because it’s not. There were parts I felt were not explored as much as I would have liked, and some things that felt rushed or as if they dragged on too long.
But it made me uncomfortable, mostly because I didn’t understand Bri’s struggles the way I’m used to understanding the struggles of characters in novels. I learned more from this novel than I have from a novel in a long, long time.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. One hundred percent.
People of color can read it to see something they might relate to. People interested in music can read it for the musical aspect. And privileged white people like me can read it in the hopes of learning something about the struggles of people of color that we will never experience for ourselves.
Read it. Please.