REVIEW: ‘On the Come Up’ is another bold novel from Angie Thomas

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The cover of "On the Come Up" by Angie Thomas. (Courtesy Photo by HarperCollins Publishers)

Angie Thomas’ debut novel “The Hate U Give” was a breakout success and has been on The New York Times’ best-seller list for more than 100 weeks. “The Hate U Give” was also chosen as the 2018-2019 Book Network Common Read for Kansas State University.

“On the Come Up,” released on Feb. 5, is Thomas’ first novel following her success with “The Hate U Give.”

The book tells the story of Bri Jackson, a girl who wants to follow in her dad’s footsteps by being a rapper. The difference is Bri wants to make it big, and her dad was murdered before he ever had the chance.

Bri has to navigate her first rap battle, an incident with school security guards and dropping her first song. Being thrust into the limelight because of these events leaves Bri grappling with her voice and identity.

Thomas’ well constructed prose features a strong female character and realistic situations in a story that is just as timely as “The Hate U Give.”

It’s tempting to compare Bri to Thomas’ first breakout character, Starr Carter. However, Starr and Bri are very different. Where Starr has learned to “code-switch” to survive, Bri often fails to adapt to these situations. Bri is a messy, complex character who messes up, and that’s okay because that’s real life.

Like “The Hate U Give” before it, “On the Come Up” is also set in the fictional neighborhood of Garden Heights, and the tension of Khalil’s death still runs in the background of the story. There are important conversations that are had about social issues that resonate across the books. Thomas knows the impact that “The Hate U Give” had, and she continues her work in her sophomore novel as well.

Additionally, Thomas continues to explore themes of family, friendship and community in this novel. I appreciated the addition of scenes that took place in church and the role that religion plays in Garden Heights and in Bri’s family.

While Bri and Starr come from two different social circles, this story still places an important emphasis on voice and speaking out. However, instead of a character trying to find her voice like Starr, Thomas presents a character who has a loud voice and has to figure out how she’s going to use it. The bars that Thomas writes for Bri are phenomenal and really help bring life to this character and her experiences.

Thomas has a background as a teen rapper herself, so those aspects of this novel are especially on point. Her voice is an important addition to the young adult literary canon, especially in conjunction with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag movement.

Additionally, from Bri’s school life to the sexism she experiences in her budding rap career, Thomas writes situations that are both oddly descriptive and realistic. For instance, there’s a part where Thomas describes a kiss that tastes like Cheetos Puffs. Even in conveying a big, impactful story, Thomas’ prose is so down to earth and enjoyable to read.

There is so much I could say about this novel. I read this nearly 500-page book in just under five hours; this book is engrossing, to say the least. If you previously read “The Hate U Give” for fun or as the K-State Common Read, you should make “On the Come Up” the next novel on your list. It’s an important novel and well worth a read.

If you need any other reason to give the book a try, or if you’re already a die-hard fan, Thomas will be visiting K-State on April 11, 2019 to give a talk about activism and the themes she explores in her books.

Macy Davis is the culture editor for the Collegian and a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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Macy Davis
I'm Macy Davis, culture editor. I'm a senior studying English with a minor in mass communications and journalism. When I'm not reading and writing (both for class and for fun), I'm a member of the nationally ranked K-State speech team. After I graduate I plan on pursuing a graduate degree in library science.