“This is a temporary setback for a major comeback. We ain’t letting it stop the come up.”
Read in January 2020
Mild Spoilers below
As soon as I heard that Angie Thomas was writing a new book, I excitedly clicked on the ‘to read’ button and counted the days before its release. The Hate U Give blew me away, it was my favourite book of 2017 and reading it was enlightening and life-changing for me, it taught me so much about racial injustices and police violence in the US and the characters were so precious. Therefore, my expectations were over the top for On the Come Up, and unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to them. Quite the opposite, I found it really long and often boring and I couldn’t connect with the main character one bit. This story also takes place in Garden Heights, sometime after the events featured in THUG that are mentioned a couple of times, but with totally different characters, none of them being related the characters from Angie Thomas previous book.
We follow 16-year-old Bri, who comes from a very poor family, confronted with an empty fridge and piling bills as well as dealing with gang violence on a daily basis. She lives with her mother, Jayda, a recovering drug addict, and her brother Trey, recently came back home to help their family out. Her aunt Pooh, who is part of the local gang, also has a strong influence in her life. Her father, Lawless -Pooh’s brother-, who used to be a locally famous underground rapper, was murdered because of the gangs. Inspired by him, Bri’s dream is to become the greatest rapper of all time, and she believes that the upcoming battle can be the big push her upcoming career need. After being racially-targeted in a bag search at school that ends up in violence, Bri writes a rap song about her anger and frustration and it goes viral for the wrong reasons, bringing her in the heart of a controversy.
“There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.”
If I had to describe Bri using one word, it would be “brat”, because she was such a brat to all those who cared for her in her life, her brother, her aunt, her friends, and the one who had it worse is her mother, Jay, my favourite character of this book. Jay fought hard to be able to take care of her kids after Bri’s dad died, she went to rehab to get them back, and she now has been clean for eight years and counting. She is a gem, she doing her best to be a good mother, she started going back to school to become a social worker, she just got fired of her previous job and is actively applying to find a new one (not easy, considering her drug addict past, on which she is honest in job interviews) and yet it seems like it’s not enough to earn Bri’s respect. Not only she doesn’t obey or listen to her Jay, but she also doesn’t seem able to speak with her mother without snapping and she calls her by her first name. She always judges her, having prejudices over the fact that her mother will be relapsing any day now. Jay only wants to prove her worth and even her own daughter doesn’t have faith in her, and I find that so sad.
But if you think that Jayda is the only person Bri is disrespectful with, you are sorely mistaken. Bri was insufferable with everyone who cared for her. Including, but not limited to, her brother, her aunt and her friends. Speaking of her “friends”, she kept ghosting them for no reason, then meeting them only to be rude once again for no reason. She fought with them a lot, especially when they didn’t have the same opinion on a topic or when they disagreed with her. Honestly, it felt so childish it was quite irritating and it made this whole book feel childish in the end. It didn’t have the same impact her previous book had, the dialogues and the arguments felt cheesy, and the romantic relationships severely lacked chemistry. Bri was such an angry character, and she could have been fine flawed characters, but she just wasn’t; she stayed rude, selfish and judgmental throughout the book.
“Sometimes the rules are different for black folks, baby… Midtown is unfortunately one of those places where you not only gotta play chess, but you gotta play it with a different set of rules.”
The writing itself was a step below the previous book and it made me wonder if Angie Thomas started writing On the Come Up first, maybe in her younger years. The side characters were underdeveloped and which is a weird thing to say considering that I remember saying the opposite on my review of THUG, as an example Pooh’s girlfriends seemed to only exist to claim diversity. Also, I really have a hard time connecting with books that include raps or songs or spells or whatever that you should sing. I end up skimming through them, probably because of my lack of imagination in the rhythm, I can’t picture how the music is supposed to sound, and therefore it was difficult for me to enjoy this book when Bri’s dream was annoying me.
The ending felt hurried, it was too easy and forced. The problem with the school wasn’t satisfyingly resolved, and Bri’s characters having it all good at the end bothered me. It felt like she was recompensed for her shitty behaviour. And the fact that she became the face of the movement her friends started when she didn’t want to take part of it in the first place and was mean to them for even doing it, and then she could take advantage of being in that said movement for her rap career, was extremely irritating. That being said, I totally understand the importance of a book like On the Come Up, giving a voice to oppressed minorities, acknowledging the problem. Discussing inequalities, institutionalized racism and giving those girls a role model they can relate to is vital and I really hope this book makes a difference in someone life, and I’m sure it already did, considering the rating.
UPDATE January 23rd 2020: I met Angie Thomas in a signing she did in Paris today and it was so interesting. She was so funny and nice. And she gave me some pieces of information that I thought were useful to include in this review.
1. Surprisingly she wrote the book AFTER The Hate U Give, even though I found it kind of mediocre compared to THUG. She explained how difficult for her (and to most authors) to write a second book. That she thought about the plot of THUG her whole life and that she had to move to another character for One the Come Up. She said that both Starr and Bri are inspired by differents part of her own story.
2. Angie has a very strong relationship with her mother (who also was present at the signing) and that’s probably why she always portrays amazing parent in her books. She also said that she was planning another book that would take place at Garden Heights and would concern one of the characters we already know. I asked if it was Jayda, and she said no *internally crying*
UPDATE April 13th 2020: We got new and it will be on Maverick, I’m not ready.
Have you read or will you read this book?
What did you think about it?