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On the Come Up

Hip-hop is power in this unmissable YA read

The Urban Dictionary defines the expression ‘on the come up’ as ‘somethin’ that’s not quite happenin’ yet, but on the vurge (sic) of blowin’ up or makin’ some serious noise,’ a definition that perfectly sets the scene for On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, her second brilliant YA novel.

It tells the story of aspiring rapper, Bri, and her ascent to hip-hop notoriety. Battling poverty, racism, and crushing prejudice, we follow Bri’s bid to be crowned MC queen. But what price stardom?

Bri Jackson has a difficult life by anyone’s standards, her rapper father murdered, her mother an ex-drug addict, and the family teetering on the edge of eviction and food banks. When her father’s old manager, Supreme, offers to help her make it as a rapper, Bri foresees their lives transformed. For Bri, hip-hop is the magic flow of rhythm and rhyme, for Supreme,it’s an act.

‘You know who the biggest consumers of hip-hop are?…White kids in the suburbs.’

Kids who love listening to music that terrifies their parents.

Supreme wants Bri to play the role of hoodlum, to rap about lowlife in the ghetto. After all, it’s what people expect of her anyway, a perspective that is challenged when a racist incident at school sets off a chain of inflammatory events. At the eye of the storm, Bri must make some decisions about her personal integrity, and her responsibility to her peers.

On the Come Up is set in the same neighbourhood as Angie Thomas’ outstanding debut novel, The Hate U Give, and continues that book’s fight against racial injustice.

A compelling writer, Angie Thomas has a real gift for dialogue and whip-smart humour. Her characters’ voices are so strong and authentic that the reader believes in them implicitly. I also loved the rap compositions themselves. The spark and rhythm of Bri’s rapping is poetry with a sting.

A heartfelt and revelatory novel, this is an unmissable YA read.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas is published by Walker Books, 448 pages.

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