On the Come Up Review

OH! I almost forgot to put the audio files in this. I hope you are having a great day! I hope your weekend was relaxing and this week will be a good one.

Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target  audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.

That being said… Spoilers ahead.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Synopsis From The Book

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral . . . for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.  

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

Contemporary | YA – PW |Gang Violence, School Profiling, Threaten Violence, Poverty | One’s Voice and Identity, Misunderstanding of Intention, Friendship, Acceptance

Initial Thoughts Before Reading:

Alright! On into a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. I got this book and planned to read it in January. We can see that didn’t happen. I am finally getting to it, and also this book is doubling as my personal book club’s book this month. We still have another book to read, but we decided to take a break from those Scholastic books and are reading this one instead for this month. I really loved The Hate U Give (And her new book comes out next year!) so I have high hopes for this book, if we are being honest. I know its a completely different concept, and I’m ready for it.

Initial Thoughts After Reading:

Well this was a fun book. Bri’s mother and aunt reminded me of Into The Spiderverse a bit. I really loved the rap sections of this book and NEED a playlist. Of Bri’s raps, her freestyles, everything. Give it to me. Thanks.

Plot Overview:

Part 1: Old School

Bri has a few minutes left until ACT practice is over. Her mom signed her up for prep and all she can think about is it being 4:30 and the chance of her being able to rap in The Ring. She’ll only know if she’s selected if she’s called between 4:30 and 5:30 and her aunt said she’d hook her up. 4:30 rolls on and she has to talk to her teacher about her bad grades. She doesn’t care. She and her friends leave the school, after being harassed by the guards, and go home. She gets Popkenchurch (a combination of Popeyes, KFC, and Church’s) for dinner and she knows something is up. But before she can learn, she gets the call. Bri goes to The Ring with her aunt. She is paired up against a boy named Milez who is the son of her father’s former manager. Her father fired him before he was killed in a gang incident (her father wasn’t tied to a gang but he was close to people who were). Milez talks about that death in round one and Bri chokes but for rounds two and three she hits back and wins.

Her mom finds out the next day about her bad grades and when Bri gets to school she is profiled by the guards, and suspended. She finds out her mom lost her job. When she was younger, Bri’s mother was a drug addict. She’s been clean for 8 years, but she has a hard time finding a job because of it. She goes to her aunt, who is a drug dealer, and the two of them then go to a studio where Bri lets out her frustrations. She makes a really interesting song about gun violence and assumptions (as if to say you expect this of me but you are wrong), however her aunt is gone before the recording can begin and doesn’t have a chance to talk about the lyrics. Bri ends up showing the song to her friends when she goes back to school, and finds out she is called a drug dealer at the school (she was selling candy but not drugs). Malik, one of her best friends, recorded her being profiled and tells her they can put the video up and make her a poster child for the wrongness at their school, she says no. He also doesn’t approve of her song lyrics. At the Christmas give away, Bri runs into Supreme, her dad’s former manager, and he tells her he can help her be famous. Her aunt, however, once hearing the song, says no. She tells Bri she can’t be saying things about Guns even if it has a deeper meaning, because people aren’t going to be looking for it. In her anger, Bri posts the song and sends it to Supreme who makes it go viral.

Part Two: Golden Age.

Her family gets an eviction notice on the 9th of January. Bri finds out her song went viral at school. 20,000 streams. Bri goes to The Ring, and while there she runs into the Crowns, the rival gang to her Aunt’s and the people who killed her dad. They almost fight but are broken up and kicked out. In retaliation Bri sings her song with the crowd outside and Supreme, who takes her home, tells her he can be her manager. He also has his son Milez shut up a lot. It’s important to note that Milez code-switches AND does know rappers well. At school the next day, Bri’s video at The Ring has gone up. With it being clear she is involved in some sort of gang thing. Bri and the others kids on her bus arrive to see the security guards back, they had been suspended and were back. The kids riot by quoting Bri’s lyrics and soon a fight breaks out between students and the two guards. At Malik’s house later, all the Black and Brown kids at their school meet up and talk. Their school might be getting real cops with guns and they have to go to the Superintendent about the profiling. Bri still refuses to be the poster child.

The day after the riot, it is on the news and her mother hears her song for the first time and grounds her because of the lyrics. Her mother tells her not to do anything stupid. Bri subsequently goes on Twitter, sees an article of a woman demanding her song be taken down because it promotes violence (she’s a staunch gun owner), and Bri lashes out saying she wont be silenced. The next day she talks with Sonny, her other best friend, and Malik. Sonny, who has been struggling with his ACT and SAT grades — he’s trying to get out and get to art school and really needs the scores — has also been struggling with his not relationship with a boy he’s never met. The three talk about their strain on their relationship, and rekindle, before making a music video to On the Come Up, showing line by line footage to explain Bri’s song for good. They also use it to show the footage of when she was thrown to the ground by the security at her school. Sonny goes home to take care of his sisters and Malik and Bri kiss but both realize its kinda not a thing between them. Bri also realizes she likes a boy named Curtis in the process (he was the one who told her about her 20,000 streams, and the one who started singing her song that ended up becoming the riot). While Malik is walking Bri home they are jumped by a Crown, and he robs her of her father’s golden chain necklace (that she hadn’t hidden under her shirt like she always does, by accident).

Part 3: New School.

Bri calls her aunt who hurries over. Malik has a black eye and Bri begs him not to tell his mom. Bri’s aunt drops her off at home and then tells Bri not to get involved. Bri then realizes what she has asked her aunt to do, to hurt someone, to hurt herself. Her aunt disappears. The electricity goes out in the house (which sucks because Bri’s mom just bought groceries with food stamps). Her grand parents show up asking about her vulgar song. Bri’s brother defends her and Bri says she’s staying with her mom. Her grandparents give her mother money to help with the electricity. Five days after the incident, Malik and Bri aren’t talking and the meeting with the Superintendent happens. Jay, Bri’s mom, speaks up about what happened and demands change. She also talks to the Superintendent about a job. Ten days later, Bri’s aunt responds and Bri goes to see her aunt (Curtis is also headed that way). She talks to her Aunt who didn’t hurt anyone, but a drug bust happens and Bri gets away with Curtis’ help. Bri’s shoes fall apart and Curtis gives her his. They kiss, at his house. Bri tells her mother about her aunt getting arrested. She then goes to the radio interview that Supreme set up, and gets very very angry and became the “ratchet hood rat” that Supreme wanted. Bri cries to her brother who tells her he doesn’t even know who she is anymore and she admits she thinks she’s a burden and that she’s scared. Everyone is talking about her interview but Malik isn’t talking to her.

Bri goes to a recording session that Supreme sets up and instead of listening to a song and writing it herself, she gets lyrics that were written for her. She realizes that she is their marionette but records the song anyway. Bri and her mother go to see her Aunt in jail, and her aunt and mother get into a spat about the situation. Jay can’t afford bail and Aunt Pooh blames Jay for what happened and for abandoning her. However Jay says Aunt Pooh can only use that excuse for so long. Bri tells her mother about the recording and her mother asks her who she is, a legit question. For once Bri can answer that, a lot more answers will come but that she can not rap any more. Her mom gets a call from the Superintendent about an interview (fingerprints and Background check). Sonny messages Bri and she meets up with Malik and Sonny because Sonny is going to meet the guy from online. Malik and Bri fix their friendship and Sonny meets with Milez, or rather Miles. Miles is actually gay — “Milez with a z is supposed to be the teen heartthrob” — , hates rapping, and likes photography. he admits to being a product of his father’s creation and that he doesn’t want to be anymore.

Bri, Trey, and Jay go to church. Trey brings Kayla, who is another girl rapper from The Ring that Bri looked up to, as his girlfriend. Bri talks to Curtis and sets up a date. Bri’s grandparents and mother are on good terms and they all go to her grandparent’s house for dinner. Her mother talks about when she had to leave them there, when Bri was five, and that she knows Bri still has nightmares. Bri resolves to finally call her mom (she’s called her Bri the whole time). They are moving in there until Jay gets herself back on her feet and gets a new house. She tells Trey to go for his dream of becoming a doctor and that he doesn’t have to take care of them. Trey tells her that she has to let Bri go after her’s.

Her mom let’s her go to The Ring where she’s supposed to perform her new song, but on the way in they run into a kid who used to hang around her aunt. He talks big to some Crowns that harass them and Bri realizes she can’t do it. She can’t let him use her words to become another member. She speaks to her aunt on the phone and finds herself again in another way and goes on the stage and instead of singing the prewritten song, she freestyles saying that she’s not going to be a puppet, and telling the Crowns she meant no disrespect. A few days later she is “studying” for the ACT with Curtis, her brother is going to grad school soon, and he is taking the kid, Jojo, to a basketball game (positive role model!). Bri gets a call from Sonny who tells her to check the internet.

Someone has retweeted her freestyle and is offering to rap with her. Some big name person that can change everything.

What I Liked:

Music; We are going to start this baby off and talk about the music. We get some big name raps in a few pages of this book and I knew then that this book was going to have me. I had to pull up the songs to listen to the instrumentals while going and it completely pulled me into the story. Truly had me. I am speaking about the music references here specifically because they were all so good. Lots of rap research was done here.

Nerd culture; HP, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars. Scandal. Marvel. This had me geeking out because Bri is a regular kid but also a nerd and also obsessed with Rap. Every time someone didn’t get one of her references I died laughing/

Bri; Lets talk about this princess. She has It and if you don’t know what It is, it is something I can’t explain to you. However Angie Thomas does a pretty good job. Bri is confused, justifiably, and trying to be something she’s not but also trying to be the person she is. Her struggle is such a real one but told at a large stage because of a single song that is taken far out of context. Bri is wonderfully written, complex with her own emotions and goal, and when she finally decides to be who she wants to be — who she is and who she always has been — was a very triumphant moment.

Malik; Of Bri’s friends I’m going to start with him, because her relationship with Malik is what shows her shift in understanding who she is. When she’s fighting with him she’s the most confused. When she’s close with him she knows who he is. He’s her brother, her family, and everything. However Malik is also very complex, and his own character. He has his own goals and decisions. He’s a film maker and has a girl friend. He’s confused by Bri too because she is the Leia to his Luke. They are twin in a way, it just took them a while to find it. As a character, I feel like I got to know a lot about him through what he didn’t say and I respect that. I really loved him.

Sonny; I know more about Sonny from what he said. Sonny spoke more in Bri’s story because his relationship was Bri’s anchor in a way. he was dealing with his own stuff. Trying to get out of Garden, his ACT and SAT, and the boy from online. He had his entire separate life that was pretty flushed out and clearly kept moving as Bri lived her’s. He was a good balance to Malik.

Curtis; He’s cute and great, and pretty good support. Seeing Bri realize she liked him was adorable. However he is also a loud mouth and determined. From what we do get to know about him, I can understand why Bri likes him. Also he’s a nerd like Bri, which is good.

Miles; We first meet him and he’s an asshole. We meet him again and we know his father is controlling him. We meet him a third time and he’s deciding to become himself. His story mirrors Bri’s, as in they are living the same thing and ultimately he is also someone who helps her see what she has to do. Getting to know Miles in these moments was really nice because we see that he is truly a rap nerd, he just doesn’t like rapping himself. He is more than what his father makes him out to be and what the world wants him to be, just like Bri had to be.

Aunt Pooh; These complicated character role models. Angie Thomas just has to hit hard with them. Aunt Pooh is a drug dealer, but she doesn’t want Bri talking shit about stuff she doesn’t know. She wants Bri to shine but not by talking about guns and other things, but by using her lyrics as poetry. It’s why she rose Bri with the greats, and taught her about rap and how it is, the weight of it, the style, the flow, the power. Aunt Pooh respects Bri and demands Bri respects herself. She also does bad things and Bri knows that. She’s a good foil to Bri’s mom, in the way that Aunt Pooh lets Bri chase her dreams and soar free, but sometimes that comes at a cost. Aunt Pooh shows her that.

Jay; Bri’s mom was a drug addict and has spent so much of her life trying to turn that around. She has, she’s been clean. She is doing her best and still struggling. Bri is so afraid of losing her mother, she’d rather not have that close of a connection at all. Bri rejects her mother for a lot of things, without truly meaning to. She loves her mom and will support her mom, but doesn’t trust her. Her mom has done bad things but she has taken control of her life and she shows Bri this. When Bri understands, and accepts that she doesn’t have to be scared of losing her mom, she truly can take in that lesson. Bri can control her life too.

Trey; Bri’s older brother is a great man, doing his best for his family while sacrificing his dreams. Everyone talks about him and how he couldn’t even get anywhere. He is the sign of failure and the person that Bri doesn’t want to become, because if he couldn’t then how could she. He is all of her fears, and yet he is still walking because he, in some ways, doesn’t see himself as a failure and to that I have a load of respect. Trey is breaking the system by rejecting norms, and I respect that as well.

Other Characters; All the other characters in the book were interesting to interact with and complicated in their own way.

Rap; Now. This is where it gets me. TBH I actually don’t listen to rap. Don’t get me wrong, I know flows, and lines, I know rhythms and their meanings. I just don’t prefer to listen to it. That does not mean I will not defend rap to the end of time. I once saw this post that said something along the lines of “if you can wrap, you can write a book.” I got so angry. First off, writing a novel is different from the art form of rap. Rap is closer to poetry. My friends said that it was a literary thing and that the post was merely saying that people could turn their talents into something else, and I was at a loss. Because yes, rap is closer to poetry, but good rap? That stuff is art. It is it’s own form of art and it infuriates me when people consider it a lesser form of anything. Rap is rap and the words tell a story. Rap has a meaning. Rap is something. If you want to write a rap, write rap better, don’t go and start writing novels (unless you want to) because writing novels is the superior form of writing. Novels are a form of story telling, so is poetry, so is rap. It’s like telling a novelist who writes genre fiction that they aren’t good enough and should write literary fiction. Its a thing that happens and its wrong because its a different art form. And it always pisses me off when people just see rap and think lesser, lower, anything like that. Some raps are trash, I’ll give you that, but really?

So why do I bring up rap? Because this book defends it. This book tells us to look at the deeper meanings of songs and to look at the issues that they address. People want to use songs to blame for things because it is easier. No. Just like any art form, rap reflects the world. The worlds reflect society. Rap tells the world this truth and everyone goes off because it is violent. The world is violent. That’s a fact. Rap just lets you see into it and instead of demonizing the art we should analyze the song. However some people are so afraid of that. It’s why they ban books. And I’m happy that this is so important to the novel, the fact of what the song means. Because the world is going to twist it, like they twisted Bri and her words, and she said no. She said no and she snapped back. I love this.

Connection to The Hate U Give; We learn about it as the riots. The riots about the black boy that was killed by the police. Jay loses her job because of the riots having destroyed the church’s daycare. The riots made Bri afraid of cops, more so than she was before. I liked how this did have a hold on the story in such a minor, yet major way.

What I Would Have Liked or Changed:

I need a complete playlist of all of Bri’s raps and a full song of Unarmed and Dangerous.

Book Club Thoughts:

We talked about how Rap was done and how kids are forced to grow up. Most of what we talked about how we liked having this book in existence. It was not revolutionary, but it was a fun read.

Rating: 4.5/5

Ultimately this book was good, but I’m not sure I’d put it as a 5/5. Not completely.

Notable Quotes:

“Folks need to get their space opera life right.” – pg 24

“You can only spell ‘brilliant’ by first spelling Bri.” – pg 41 (she doesn’t know this is her signature yet, but it is.)

“That’s when I learned that when people die, they sometimes take the living with them.” – pg 45

“Rapping has been my dream forever, but dreams aren’t real. You wake up from them or reality makes them seem stupid.” – pg 50

“He talked to you like a human being, now all of a sudden you’re thirsty for him? What kid of heterosexual bullshit is this?” – pg 132

” ‘ ‘Unarmed and dangerous, but America, you made us, only time we famous–‘ ‘
‘ ‘Is when we die and you blame us.’ ‘ “- pg 148-149

“Folks love to blame hip-hop. Guess that’s easier than looking at the real problems, you know?” – pg 253

“All these flavors out here, and you choose to be salty.” – pg 278

“Who are you?… OF the millions and billions of people in the world, you’re the only person who can answer that. Not people online or at your school. I can’t even answer that. I can say who I think you are… And I think you’re brilliant, talented, corageous, beautiful. You’re my miracle. But you’re the only one who can say who you are with authority. So, who are you?” – pg 397

“Just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also saying Bri.”- pg 441

pt 1
pt 2
pt 3
pt 4
pt 5
pt 6
pt 7

One thought on “On the Come Up Review

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