Review: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Genre: YA / Contemporary
Publication Date: February 5, 2019
Format: Audiobook
Length: 464 pages
Description from Goodreads:

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. 

I’ve been excited for this book for a long time now, but was a bit disappointed when I saw some negative reviews for it when it came out. I was worried that I wouldn’t like it or that it wouldn’t live up to The Hate U Give, but Angie Thomas has proved me wrong.

Characters

Just like with The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas manages to create a wide range of dynamic characters that show every aspect of the story. In On the Come Up, every character feels different and everyone is incredibly well-written.

All of the characters in this book, even the minor ones, have their own story and their own struggles. After having read this book and The Hate U Give, I definitely feel like character development is one of Angie’s major strengths as a writer.

What I love about Angie’s writing is that she always writes characters in a way that feels genuine and realistic. Growing up in a middle class white family in a not-very-diverse suburb in Connecticut, I know that my teen experience is much different that Bri’s. Yet, Angie writes in such a way that I still get Bri’s story. Anyone can read her books and empathize with the characters, no matter the reader’s background.

I also feel like she writes the “teen voice” so well. Both main characters in her novel feel like real teenagers, rather than just what adults think teenagers are like.

I will say that Bri is harder to like than Starr was. She can be kind of a jerk to those closest to her, and while many of her actions stemmed from a desire to help her family out, a lot of her actions were selfish. I loved Bri though, despite her flaws. She’s definitely much more of a go-getter, and works harder to take control of her situation willingly, whereas it feels like Starr was thrust into doing so. I also felt that this story was a bit more complex and that Bri was a more complex character than Starr was.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really see a ton of character development. She was strong from the start, and didn’t really seem to change all that much. I also felt like some of the character flaws present at the beginning were still there at the end. I think career-wise she learned and grew, but as a person, not so much.

Setting

I didn’t know this before reading, but this book is set in the same town as The Hate U Give, and it does reference the events of that book. We get a glimpse into the aftermath of the riots that took place towards the end of that novel.

I enjoyed learning about another part of Garden Heights and what life is like for another family.

Plot

I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be into the plot of this story because I don’t really listen to rap music and don’t really know much about the hip-hop scene. Boy was I wrong.

In addition to the main storyline of Bri wanting to be a rapper, there are so many subplots that explore themes like racism, inequality, and poverty. And I hate to keep comparing this to her other book, but she does this in such a natural way in both books. I was so impressed by The Hate U Give because it would be so easy for a book like that to become preachy, but Angie explores all of the issues and ideas so naturally. The same is true in this book.

Pacing

I thought the book was paced fairly well, for the most part. There is always something going on, and I always wanted to keep going to see what would happen next. There weren’t really any parts that I found myself wanting to rush through.

I did feel like the ending was a bit rushed, and I wished there was just a bit more of a buildup to the final scene.

Audiobook Quality

Again with the comparisons. I listened to The Hate U Give as an audiobook and I was so impressed with it. The narrator did such a great job of portraying Starr and her voice, and she added so much emotion to the story. I was so excited when I downloaded this book and realized that the same woman, Bahni Turpin, was doing the narration. Bahni does another great job with this one. She adds so much character to an already great story. If you have the choice between audio and physical/digital, I would recommend giving the audiobook a go.

Overall

I know not everyone is enjoying this book, but I think it was a great story, and it solidifies Angie Thomas as one of the great YA writers of our time. Coming off the success of The Hate U Give, this woman is definitely not just a one-hit wonder. I can’t wait to see what she gives us next.

4 thoughts on “Review: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

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