By now y’all definitely know the name Angie Thomas, and you better believe we’ll keep shouting it until our throats are sore because if anyone deserves this hype and recognition, it’s Queen Angie. She made her larger-than-life COME UP—pun fully intended—with her stunning debut, The Hate U Give, which recently marked its two-YEAR anniversary on the New York Times bestseller list!! C’mon, guys, TWO YEARS! Plus, On the Come Up has been absolutely killing it, as well!
These books matter for so many reasons. As Angie has said in various interviews, their success has proven that books about black teenagers matter and that they sell just as much as any book. Historically, black literature and entertainment were seen as separate from the mainstream—i.e., mostly white—media and entertainment industry. The nonargument was that, apparently, black people and people of color were a “different type” of audience, only interested in “certain types” of stories. Translation? The media caters exclusively to the non-POC audience, who saw token POC characters at most but rarely stories in which these characters played central roles.
On the Come Up is a fight back against this way of thinking and centers and celebrates the black American experience, weaving a story that is smart, entertaining, and funny as hell.
The story centers around Bri, a sixteen-year-old who lives in Garden Heights (the same neighborhood featured in THUG) with big dreams of being the famous rapper her late father never got to be. Like many teenagers, Bri’s life centers around family, friends, and school. But she also has to think about things that other teens are lucky enough not to worry about, like keeping the lights on in her house and food on the table.
Bri hates seeing her mother and brother struggle so much and sacrificing their own dreams in order to keep a roof over their heads, but she feels powerless to do anything about it. Until one of the songs she wrote and performed at a local rap battle goes viral, and suddenly Bri’s got everybody talking about her—but not for the reasons she wanted. People tell her this publicity can only help her succeed—but at what personal cost?
Angie’s books are so good because they remind us that everybody has a story, no matter who they are or how they’re portrayed in real life or online. There is simply so much to love about this book, so, of course, we had to make a list.
You Need to Read ‘On the Come Up’
AND HERE’S WHY
All the Characters
We want to happy-cry from all the feelings the relationships in this book gave us. Whether it was the Unholy Trinity of Bri and her best friends since diaper days, Malik and Sonny; the forever love and support between Bri’s immediate family of Trey and their mother, Jay; the hilarious pettiness and wisdom of her extended family, the Jackson grandparents; and the slow burn between Bri and a certain someone (no spoilers!). Every single relationship in this book is so well crafted and so deeply human.
More Neighborhood World-building
The neighborhood of Garden Heights remains just as fleshed out as it was in The Hate U Give, so much so that it’s basically a character unto itself. It’s a neighborhood that comes together as a community, through the good times and the bad; a place where neighbors look out for each other and have one another’s backs through it all. And, of course, it wouldn’t be complete without the gossiping church dwellers who know all your business before you even know the full story yourself.
The Hip-Hop References
It’s no wonder Angie’s impressive bio lists “former teen rapper” among her many accomplishments: after this book, we definitely believe her! Bri’s lyrics SLAY-AY-AY us as she spins poetry to a beat. From all the old-school hip-hop references to the lyrics that hit you before you realize what just happened, it’s clear that hip-hop is a huge influence in Bri’s (and Angie’s) life, and the love and respect in this book are palpable.
An Inspiring, Well-Rounded Story
As always, Angie pulls off the perfect balance of tackling real-life issues that unfortunately plague too many teens across the nation with humor, whip-smart social commentary, and a cast of bighearted, larger-than-life characters with sky’s-the-limit aspirations. Throughout the hardships there’s always lots of love to go around, and as Dumbledore says, love is the greatest power of all.
A Shining Heroine
Bri has to deal with problems that anyone, let alone a sixteen-year-old, would be hard-pressed not to worry about. Yet Bri also deals with other teenage problems too: grades, friends, her reputation at school. Through it all she remains true to herself, which is something we should all aspire to.
Bringing Social Justice to the Forefront
One of the large conflicts addressed in this book is the unjust scrutiny that black and brown students have to go through at Midtown High, including extra security measures and office trips, that other students simply don’t face at the same rate. Racial profiling is real; it’s degrading and it’s dehumanizing. Without meaning to, Bri is suddenly thrust into the middle of a much bigger problem, and she must decide if she wants to put herself on the line in order to make change possible.
On the Come Up reminds us that young people CAN make a difference. If you see something unjust going on, make it known because contrary to what it may seem, one person truly can be the catalyst to spark change.
The Overall Message
The beauty of art is that there are multiple interpretations of the masterpiece. We could honestly find something to talk about in every chapter, tbh. But the major takeaways we got from On the Come Up?
1. You have a voice: Use it.
2. Friends and family are everything.
3. Stand up for what you believe in and get ready to defend your beliefs.
4. Never give up, even when—especially when—things seem harder than they’ve ever been before.
5. Go after your dreams—but stay true to yourself in the process.