'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 14 February 2019

Review: On The Come Up

On the come up: something that is not quite happening yet, but on the verge of blowing up or making some serious noise.
Straight up, I’m no hip-hop, rapping expert or even fan. The combative nature of this genre of music and the whole gangster rap code that surrounds much of it inhibits my understanding and desire to get up close and cosy with it. 

I’m also a bit of a stranger to the world of the older teen, so this contentious tale of sixteen-year-old Bri Lawless was never going to be an easy record for me to spin. However, wait, because On The Come Up by YA master, Angie Thomas is worth playing to the very end.

Bri tells her story in first person providing even more edgy immediacy to a tale that is full of raw language and frequently bared emotions. 

She comes from the impoverished side of town, daughter of an executed ex-rap king father and recovered drug user mother, whose sole objective is to rap. However, it’s one thing wanting to be the world’s greatest rapper of all time. It’s quite another translating future success into saving the family from sliding inextricably into homeless especially after her mother loses her job.

Despite a couple of stalwart friends, Malik and Sonny, Bri’s school life is otherwise riddled with anguish. ‘Trouble’ is her moniker. She is conspicuous because of her creed and skin colour, her actions frequently misunderstood. Such resentments however feed the songs pent up inside her just like the frustrations she carries, and allow her to rap with incomparable fevor.

But are blind passion and a desire to break free from the stereotypes and prejudices that plague her enough to ensure success? Her first recording opportunity goes viral but ill-placed loyalties and misguided intentions soon send earthquake sized fissures among the community, dividing her friends and family. 

As controversy becomes a constant companion, Bri slowly learns how to trust, not just those around her who are keen to exploit and manipulate her, but more importantly, herself, eventually rising up out of the mud of her environment and becoming who she wants to be, her way.

On The Come Up was difficult for me to appreciate – at first. It taught me a few things though and a dictionary of street-speak! Apart from an incredibly well-crafted character study of a slice of social demographic that many of us are only familiar with from the other side of a screen, it taught me how to embrace rap (and rappers). 

Bri’s shared introspective moments as she pens new lyrics and performs new material reveal the mysterious artistry and poetry of rap, the beauty of rhythm and rhyme concealing the story’s true purpose and force. It is legitimately illuminating. Like this story, which entreats teens to fight for their dreams and keep looking skyward. 

Punchy, inelegant, real, this story is dope. (Read it for yourself to understand why).
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Walker Books, $ 17.99
Publication Date: May 2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781406372168

For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction