Monday, August 26, 2019

Review: On the Come Up - Angie Thomas

On the Come Up
Angie Thomas
Genre/Age: Contemporary, Young Adult
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.
Angie Thomas really knocked it out of the park with this book. I read the first 20% in the waiting room at the doctor's office and then inhaled the last 80% all in one sitting. Thomas had me hanging on to every single word.

For some background: this book takes place in the same neighborhood as her bestselling book (and movie!!) The Hate U Give and makes some references to the events of that book, but if you haven't read Thomas's debut, it's not a direct sequel so you can read it first without spoiling yourself. In regard to The Hate U Give, I loved that On the Come Up highlighted how despite taking place in the same neighborhood, the lives of the characters in each book are worlds apart. It showcased that you can't paint certain groups of people as monoliths just because they're minorities. Bri, our protagonist, is very much being painted in broad strokes as her teachers and, later, the school security guards, consider her a "hoodlum" and spread rumors about her. In reality, she's a Star Wars nerd who really, really wants to be a rapper.

For me, the rapping plot is really the heart of the story. I love hip hop so I might be biased here but I think the book sat right on the perfect line — we get quotes and insight about Bri's Top 5's and her inspirations and we get a real-time view into her thought processes when writing, too. Thomas's writing during the freestyle battle was fantastic, with the tension absolutely palpable. Also honestly, I'm someone who, if asked, would read 100 extra pages on the history of music, which may not exactly be marketable, so I think this was a good blend of information and entertainment.

Despite the rapping and the Star Wars, it's not the lightest book. I won't go into spoilers here, but the way Angie Thomas wove the themes of poverty, racial profiling, drug use, and just general changing relationships throughout the story was so well done. There was always so much happening but it never felt like an after school special saying, "Hey Reader: racism is bad." It all felt so real and so honest, like the characters had leapt off the page.

Speaking of characters, I am just head over heels for every single one. Bri's got her Unholy Trinity of Malik and Sonny, and even though they have a few arguments along the way, they're the best of friends and I'd die for them. Bri's family is complicated but so loving and I'd die for them too. We have a tiny lil romance B-story (or two) but it's not a main part of the book and it feels very cute and natural and I will not lie I smiled a lot at it because even though I'm dead inside I love a good romance.

To wrap up what is not nearly a glowing enough review: read it for the voice of Bri, read it for the awesome hip hop references, read it for Angie Thomas's amazing storytelling abilities, or read it for all of the above.

What's your "come up?"
Let us know in the comments!


  1. Great review! I think a lot of people will want to read this book with the success of Hate.

  2. I'm so darn excited for On the Come Up, and really have no excuse for not picking it up so far, because I adored The Hate U Give, and I've owned On the Come Up for quite some time. Your review definitely pushed it closer to the top of my tbr list - I love how you described Bri and her friends. I love books with great friendships. :) Great review!

    Veronika @ Wordy and Whimsical

  3. I love this review. I haven't read the book yet but my heart's melting at your words. I've read and loved The Hate U Give. I cried reading that book so this one sounds promising enough thanks to her debut book.

  4. I have yet to read THUG. I did watch the movie and proceeded to bawl like a baby. On the Come Up sounds just as powerful and heart-wrenching. I love that Angie writes these stories directed to the YA audience so they can learn more about the real world in an entertaining way. Great review!
    Genesis @ Whispering Chapters

  5. I should give this a try. Not my normal reading and the fact you devoured it makes me excited to try it. Thanks for the great review:)

  6. I can't believe I still haven't read this one, but I love your review and am looking forward to it even more!

  7. I've heard amazing things about Angie Thomas, but I still haven't given her a try. Obviously, I need to remedy that!

  8. I think this sounds amazing and something I would definitely enjoy! Great review!

  9. I think I'm going to try this one on audio. I did't read THuG but saw the movie.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

  10. This one was a winner for me too and I just loved everything about Bri. I listened to it on audio and practically inhaled it in two sittings.

  11. Absolutely loved your review Noor, I read this one a little while ago and really enjoyed it too, being a fan of hip hop and soul music. There's something about Angie's writing that really draws you in and before you know it, you've read the entire book in one setting. I found this one a little more laid back so it was able to explore what being a marginalised teen in the US means for so many adolescents. That quiet resilience is as important as Starr's story was, heroines come in many forms. Brilliant review Noor and so glad you enjoyed it!

  12. Noor Great review! I was quite stunned when I read this thinking it was Sam and also thinking it didn't really sound like her. Very nice to meet you and you really make both Thug and On the Come Up sound so, so good. I love it when I love all the secondary characters and the MC! ❤️

  13. I love both rap AND Star Wars, so I know that the hip hop culture and the pop culture references are going to work so well for me. I would never expect an Angie Thomas to be only light though, because she knows how to tackle the hard and heavy topics. I am so looking forward to reading this one as I own it. I am a little nervous because I loved THUG so much, but I know it is going to be just as great.