On The Come Up
by Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray 2019 – 447 Pages – Genre: Contemporary YA
Review by CHS Librarian John Hamilton
“Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle.”
The lines above are from the publisher (HarperCollins) description of the novel. It perfectly encapsulates the adept juxtaposition that Angie Thomas uses to move her story. Like The Hate U Give before it, this novel weaves threads of contemporary social, family, personal, and emotional struggles into an engaging tapestry.
At CHS we have used this book for several book club meetings this year. I like to start by asking a somewhat generic question – “Is it authentic?”. As with most YA authors, Angie Thomas is (surprise!) not a teenager. Essentially, you have a “Millenial” writing a book to relate to “Gen Z”, so does it work? From our students perspective, it does work. The dialogue sounds like something you’d text between your friends and Aunt Pooh is just like your auntie or your friends auntie or that one auntie. The somber aspect of this, though, is that characters like Long & Tate are as equally authentic and, unfortunately, reminiscent of real life events (or personal experiences).
Another recurring discussion through our book club meetings has been another seemingly generic one – “What is the book about?”. This is usually followed by a lot of ideas flying around at once so we started to do a thought cloud with a white board (you could use a piece of paper!). Our responses ranged from one word – Perseverance, Loyalty, Family, Goals, Success – to more complex – Bri overcoming societal obstacles, Teenagers finding/using their agency, Bri finding her place in her family, Bri resolving her feelings towards her father.
It is an enjoyably quick read that feels more like memoir than novel (even more than THUG, I think). There is some use of profanity because it depicts teenagers speaking to one another (watch your language!). Find it today on SORA (Overdrive) our digital library!