On The Come Up
12 Feb, 2019

On The Come Up

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading On The Come Up On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
on February 5, 2019
Pages: 464
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.

Goodreads

I’ve been mildly worried about this book.  Second books are always hard but how do you follow up a phenomenon like The Hate U Give?  I didn’t want to hear a lot of snide talk about, “It’s good but it isn’t The Hate U Give.”  I was lucky enough to be able to get a copy from the library on release day.  I stayed up past my bedtime to read it all in one sitting.  Good sign.  What do I think?

It’s good but it isn’t The Hate U Give.

The good thing is that it isn’t trying to be.  This is a much smaller, more personal story.  It is set in Garden Heights a year after the events in THUG.  It is referenced a few times as ‘when that kid got killed last year’.  They are still dealing with increased police presence in the neighborhood that she says is meant to look friendly but really means that they are being watched.

Bri is the younger child of an up and coming rapper who was killed by a gang outside her house.  Her mother got addicted to drugs following the murder.  Bri and her older brother Trey lived with her father’s parents until her mother got clean.  Their grandmother and mother still have a very contentious relationship because of this. Trey just graduated from college but can’t find a job in his field and is home working at a pizza place.

Bri’s mom loses her job as a church secretary because the church can’t afford to fix the damage from the riots a year ago and pay her too.  Their financial situation was precarious before but now they need to decide which bills to pay.  They even have to accept from help from Aunt Pooh, a gang member and drug dealer.  Bri decides she needs to start making money from her music to help out.

She writes a song called On The Come Up.  It references an incident where Bri got thrown on the ground by some security guards at school.  She writes that no matter what she is actually doing she is perceived as a thug and as a gang member who is selling drugs and starting fights.  The song is catchy and gets popular in the neighborhood.  The problem is that the catchy parts that people sing along with are all about guns and being a gang member.  People miss the “I’m not like this but people think it” beginning part.  “Claiming to be into gang life” causes even more problems for Bri because that’s not her and she doesn’t know how to get out of the trouble it is causing.  People are even using the song to justify what the security guards did at school.  “See, she was a gang member..”

Perception vs reality is the major theme here

  • When Bri gets publicly angry that people are misinterpreting her song and making assumptions about her, she gets praised by her manager for perfectly “playing the role of a ghetto hood rat”.
  • Aunt Pooh is a major supportive part of Bri’s life but she is also a gang member who will disappear for days at a time to avenge some slight from another gang leaving people wondering if she is alive or dead.
  • As a female rapper, it is assumed that Bri has someone writing her words for her instead of her speaking for herself.

I love all the interactions in this book.  They feel so real.  You can feel the bitterness and resentment between her mother and grandmother.  I love the descriptions of church services.  It is like a full contact sport of what you say vs what you actually mean. 

This gets deep into what it is like day to day to be very financially insecure.  Which bill gets paid?  How long can you go with heat or electric?  What is it like to have to go to a food giveaway at Christmas?  Bri’s mom was taking college classes but she can’t do that and be eligible for food stamps so she has to drop out.  That puts her even farther away from getting a better job to help out their situation. 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

03 Mar, 2017

The Hate U Give

/ posted in: Reading The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
on February 28, 2017
Genres: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Goodreads

This was one of the most anticipated books of the year.  I preordered it and started reading as soon as it downloaded.  It is worth all the hype.

I think a large part of the effectiveness of this novel is the complexity of the characters.  No one is a stock character with only one relevant character attribute or motivation.  This allows a lot of discussion among the characters on a huge range of topics.

Starr – She is 16 and lives in a neighborhood that she thinks of as the ghetto but she doesn’t want anyone else to call it that.  She witness her best friend Natasha get killed in a drive by shooting when they were 10.  After that her mother sent her to a private school in a safer neighborhood.  She feels like she is living a double life at home and at school.  She’s not sure she fits into either place.  She has a white boyfriend that she’s too afraid to tell her father about.

Khalil – He grew up with Starr but they don’t talk much any more.  His mother is a drug addict.  After he is killed, he is described as a drug dealer and a gang member but the truth is harder to come by.

Maverick – He’s Starr’s father.  He was a gang member but is out of it now.  He was in jail for three years when Starr was young.  He owns a grocery store in the neighborhood.  He is adamant that they are not going to move to a safer neighborhood because they need to help remake the one they live in.  He’s drilled Black Panther quotes into his children to teach them to survive.

Uncle Carlos – He is a policeman who grew up in the neighborhood.  He helped raise Maverick’s kids when he was in jail and there is still some tension between them.

Add in Starr’s mom and her brothers and the rest of the extended family in addition to the friends from the neighborhood and her school and this is a rich cast of characters with multiple points of view.


Khalil is driving Starr home from a party when they are pulled over.  He is pulled out of the car and then shot while standing beside the car.  The police and the officer’s family describe it as a shooting of a thug who was going for a gun.  Starr knows there was no gun.  Khalil looked into the car to ask if she was ok.  Now she’s dealing with the grief and trauma of witnessing his murder.

At first no one knows that she was the witness.  She wasn’t named because she is a minor.  She is unable to talk about it to her friends at school even though it is a major news story.  There is even a walkout supposedly in protest of his killing but mostly was just as an excuse to get out of class.  As she sees people around her react to the story of Khalil’s death she is forced to face racism in her friends that she had been ignoring before.

Should she break her silence and talk about what happened?  She talks to the grand jury but should she go public?  What will the repercussions be for her family and her neighborhood?  Talking publicly will bring up issues like gang violence that no one talks about for fear of retaliation.

This is a vibrant and layered story about life in a poor community in an inner city.  It shows an intact African-American family with open love and affection between the parents.  That’s rare to find in books.  I’ll leave all the analysis of black representation to others but I thought it was amazing.

I would love to hand this book to any white person who has ever thought All Lives Matter was an appropriate response to Black Lives Matter or who thought that a police killing was justified because the person was probably up to no good.  I doubt they would read it but this book needs to be out in the world being read by everyone.

The title comes from Tupac.  This clip was referenced in the book.  He explains what THUG LIFE means to him.

 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors

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