“Who are you? Of the millions and billions of people in the world, you’re the only one who can say who you are with authority. So, who are you?”
Angie Thomas' new novel, On the Come Up, was released earlier this month, but for anyone who has had the chance to read this breathtaking masterpiece, it most likely hasn't left your mind since. This contemporary novel gives readers a much-needed breath of fresh air. Thomas, best known for her first novel The Hate U Give, left her audience begging for more, yet nervous that her new novel may not live up to expectations. But Thomas immediately shatters her readers' fears by opening her book with an intriguing hook, "I may have to kill someone tonight." This not only grabs the reader's attention but sets the tone for the entire story.
On the Come Up is likely not a novel that one would expect to see sandwiched between books such as The Fault in Our Stars and Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda on a bookshelf, but despite its realistic portrayal of often serious topics such as police brutality and racism, it is a young adult novel. The book automatically grabs readers' attention with its black cover and all white lettering. Then off centered is a drawing of a teenage girl in camouflage cargo pants with her long dark braids falling down her back. In one hand she holds a mic while the other is extended in the air.
But even more interesting than the head-turning cover is the story that lies within the pages of the novel. The story is told through Bri Jackson's eyes. Bri is a sixteen-year-old girl with a dream that many would call ridiculous. Ever since Bri was ten her mind has focused on one thing and one thing only: rapping. For Bri rapping is her way out. Out of the poor, mostly African-American neighborhood that she lives in. Out of the fancy arts academy she attends where her grades are swiftly dropping, and few know her name. Out of the shadow her legendary rapper of a father cast on her after he was fatally shot by a gang member. And most importantly, out of the financial struggle that left Bri's family with barely any food and no heat in the winter. To Bri, rapping was the only thing that made sense. Everything else just stood in the way of her making her dream a reality.
Thomas, who is known for defying stereotypes, fills On the Come Up with diverse, multi-dimensional characters as seen through the eyes of Bri. Bri's best friend Sonny, who is black and identifies as gay, is not the usual homosexual character that is often portrayed in films and books. Instead he is the hardworking student who sometimes suffers from anxiety attacks yet has a sense of humor that he often uses to bring Bri out of a bad mood. He is a loyal friend who hates to argue and is often encouraging Bri to study with him. Overall, this is a refreshing character for many people who identify as gay or lesbian, as Sonny does not fit the stereotypes that gay characters often encompass. Instead him being gay does not define him, it is simply one aspect of his character.
Bri is also faced with the stereotypes that are thrown at her from teachers and students at her school and even from complete strangers. At school, Bri is often sent to the principal's office for simply asking questions or rolling her eyes, while the white students are not disciplined for doing the same. At one point, Bri is even thrown to the ground by two adult men when going through the security at her school for simply having candy bars in her backpack. After that people call her a drug dealer and thug. Many believe that she was racially targeted as were many other Latinx and black students have been at her school. This finally leads Bri to write a song embracing these stereotypes which causes controversy between Bri and her friends and family. Leaving her feeling alone once again.
While reading the book I was shocked to find how similar Bri and I are. By reading the summary of the novel it seemed that Bri and I were polar opposites, but once I immersed myself into the story line, I saw parts of myself in Bri, a character I thought I was nothing like. I felt her pain as she worried about her mom using drugs again, which I experienced with my own mother. I knew how she felt when her best friend ignores her and seems to forget about her. And I too understood what it felt like to be told a dream was too unreachable. Too unrealistic. It opened my eyes to see that differences should not divide us, but our similarities should unite us.
Overall, On the Come Up is a novel that every high school student should read. It not only teaches readers how important it is to not have stereotypes but to not let stereotypes define you. This novel is filled with diverse characters, most of which are positive representations of all races and genders. Bri is a strong, young black woman who is a wonderful role model for kids and adults. Her mother shows how with hard work and determination anyone can overcome addiction. This novel also shows how important it is to chase your dreams and to never let anyone tell you who you are. It's a story of finding yourself, your calling, and your place in the world. It is everything that students and kids today need. Thomas shines a light on the kids who live in poor neighborhoods and who often aren't given the education they deserve. But most importantly Thomas shows her readers that no matter your skin color or gender, only you have the power to determine who you are and to turn your dreams into reality.