About the Book

Title: On the Come Up
Published: 2019
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: This Picture You Painted, I Frame It
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Swagerific, So Call Me Terrific
Bonus Factors: Rap, Socioeconomic Diversity, Tasty Business
Relationship Status: Hail the Queen

Cover Story: This Picture You Painted, I Frame It

Just like the cover for The Hate U Give, this cover is perfect in its simplicity. You’ve got Bri in a full-on power pose, holding a mic and looking triumphant. I wish it weren’t remarkable to see POC characters on a cover, especially POC characters looking joyful, but it is and this is fabulous.

The Deal:

Brianna (Bri) Jackson is an up-and-coming teen rapper, and she comes by it honestly: her dad, Lawless, was a rapper himself, about to hit it big right before he was killed. College is fine for her older brother Trey, but she’s got bigger dreams—dreams to get herself, Trey, and their former-addict mom Jay out of the hood and on solid financial ground. Bills are piling up, they’re facing homelessness, and her mom lost her job, but if Bri can hit it big herself, they’ll never have to worry about money again.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Bri is the sort of fully-realized character, flaws and all, that defines Angie Thomas’ writing. She’s brave and talented, but she’s also, as teenagers tend to be, incredibly hard-headed. Bri fixates on what she sees as the only solution to her family’s financial problems (conveniently, that includes pursuing her own dreams) and takes on an awful lot of the emotional burden to protect her struggling mother. Bri does many of the wrong things for all the right reasons, and we should all be so lucky as to have a friend or daughter like her. I’d give her my BFF charm in a heartbeat, but like most of the Kids These Days, I’m pretty sure she’s way too cool for me.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

There is Bri-centric kissing in this book, and it is adorable—although I loved the romantic subplot for Sonny, one of Bri’s best friends, the most. Romance isn’t the central focus of the story, but the incidental flirting and awkwardness is so. Freaking. Cute. Aww, young love! Let me pinch your cheeks and squee!

Talky Talk: Swagerific, So Call Me Terrific

No book is effortless, but Thomas’ writing flows so beautifully that it sure seems like the clouds parted and words floated down from the heavens onto the page. It’s not just that she’s seamlessly woven a story that addresses family, ambition, loyalty, and the pitfalls of Existing While Black—it’s that she does it with characters so vivid that you can hear their voices, see the dimples in their grins, and feel their hearts break alongside yours. Their experiences aren’t universal (the life of a black teenager in 2019 is obviously very different than mine as a white 30-something), but the emotions are. The passionate honesty in Thomas’ words, whether it’s choosing between having food or heat, taking a stand against injustice or keeping your head down, going for glory or playing it safe, talking back to your elders or biting your tongue, make it relatable no matter what your life has been like.

You can’t walk away from this book without feeling like you’ve just seen the world through someone else’s eyes, and while that’s the general point of reading, it takes a lot of talent to do so on this level.

Bonus Factor: Rap

A mural of rapper Tupac with a man walking by

I don’t know a lot about rap (just enough to know what I enjoy, and what’s popular with my bookstore coworkers), but reading about how Bri puts together her freestyle was my favorite part of the book. Being able to string poetry together on the fly has always blown my mind—how? HOW?!—so “watching” it happen with Bri was fascinating. It’s easy to tell when an author really knows their stuff—Thomas is a huge hip-hop fan and was a teen rapper herself—because their pleasure and expertise practically lifts off the page. Sit back and revel in the rhymes that you can almost hear Bri spitting.

Bonus Factor: Socioeconomic Diversity

Escapist Rich Kid Lit (Gossip Girl, I’m looking at you) is fun, and there will always be a place for that, just like the soap operas that Bri’s mom and Granddaddy love. I think it’s refreshing to see characters who face the very real struggle of figuring out which bills they can afford to pay, because that, unfortunately, is a pretty common experience across the board today.

There’s a tacit understanding among all the characters that, while they would prefer no one do anything shady for money (Bri sells contraband candy at school for pocket money, and her aunt sells drugs), people will do what they have to do to get themselves out of the hole life dug for them. I loved the distinct lack of moralizing—we all know Drugs Are Bad, Mm’kay—because even though Aunt Pooh’s choices are going to catch up with her, we all know why she’s doing it.

The book has a pretty wide variety of socioeconomic situations in and of itself: Bri’s family is on the brink of homelessness, but her grandparents seem to be solidly middle-class, her potential music manager is blatantly rich, and her friends are various stripes of lower-to-middle middle-class.

Bonus Factor: Tasty Business

A bowl of oxtail

Despite having to visit the food bank around Christmas, there is an awful lot of tasty business in this book—from oxtails in gravy to cornbread and greens with ham hocks, I have a massive craving for soul food. Thanks for the future five pounds, Angie!

Relationship Status: Hail the Queen

I was pretty sure I’d have fun on this book date, but I didn’t know if I could love it as much as The Hate U Give. All of a sudden, I’m there in the Garden, feeling like I’m peeking in the Jackson’s windows, wishing that I could knock and be a part of their family too. This book is full of struggle, but it’s also imbued with pure joy. Angie Thomas deserves every accolade and honor that come her way, and then some. You already know that you should read this, so what are you waiting for?

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Balzer + Bray. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. On the Come Up is available now.