Bri Jackson’s family is struggling HARD. Her mom, Jay, is an eight-year recovering drug addict and she just lost her job. Her older brother, Trey, is a college graduate without a “real” job who has to work at the local pizza joint for money. Jay can’t apply for food stamps because, apparently, you can’t get food stamps if you’re taking college classes?? (btw, is that really a thing because if it is that is MESSED UP). The family has to decide which bills to pay, like do we want heat or do we want to eat? This is how talented a writer Angie Thomas is, despite how hard this family is struggling, she made me want to be a part of it. Girl’s got talent. Anyway, Bri is living with some real problems. In addition to all of that (like that isn’t enough), she’s still feeling the absence of her locally-famous rapper father even though it’s been twelve years since he was gunned down by the Crowns. School is also a total pain. Along with her best friends, Sonny and Malik, Bri is bussed out of the Garden in order to attend Midtown School of the Arts. Bri is misunderstood and frequently given detention or suspension for being “aggressive”* Everything blows up one morning when Bri is asked to go through the security gates again, despite the alarm remaining quiet. She argues with the guards who Malik says have been worse since the riots (“Seeing that cop get away with murder probably made them think they’re invincible too”). The guards continue to harass Bri, she mouths off at them and they grab her backpack. When she goes to grab it back, they jerk her hands behind her back, slam her to the ground, and handcuff her. This becomes the defining moment in Bri’s young life. That guard called her a “hoodlum” and “it’s like the word’s branded on my forehead, and I can’t get it off me.”
Bri’s saving grace is her music. She is a rapper. Her skills at rhyme building are crazy. Early in the story, when she battles in The Ring, readers get their first glimpse inside her mind to see how she builds those rhymes:
Here I am, going at him as if I don’t have any manners. Manners. A lot of words rhyme with that if I deliver them right. Cameras. Rappers. Pamper. Hammer—MC Hammer. Vanilla Ice. Hip-hop heads consider them pop stars, not real rappers. I can compare him to them.
I gotta get my signature line in there—you can only spell “brilliant” by first spelling Bri. Aunt Pooh once pointed that out right before teasing me about being such a perfectionist.
Perfection. I can use that. Perfection, protection, election. Election—presidents. Presidents are leaders. Leader. Either. Ether, like that song where Nas went in on Jay-Z.
I need to get something in there about his name too. Milez. Miles per hour. Speed. Light speed. Then I need to end with something about myself.
She puts all of those puzzle pieces together into a rap that wins her the battle and solidifies herself as the Princess of the Garden. When she goes into the studio to record her first single, her traumatic experience at school inspires her lyrics. The reader again goes inside Bri’s beautiful brain to see her thought process as she creates. And here’s the result:
You can’t stop me on the come up (x3)
You can’t stop me, nope, nope.
You can’t stop me on the come up (x3)
You can’t stop me, nope, nope.
Run up on me and get done up.
Whole squad got more heat than a furnace.
Silencer is a must, they ain’t heard us.
We don’t bust, yet they blame us for murder.
You think I’m a thug? Well, I claim it.
The Glock, yeah, I cock it and aim it.
That’s what you expect, b***, ain’t it?
The picture you painted, I frame it.
I approach, you watch close, I’m a threat.
Think I bang, think I slang, claim a seat.
Cops can draw, break the law, “cause you fret.
Yet I bet you won’t even regret.
Pin me to the ground, boy, you f****d up,
Wrote me off, called your squad, but you lucked up.
If I did what I wanted and bucked up,
You’d be bound for the ground, grave dug up.
Boys in blue rolling all through my neighborhood,
“Cause I guess that they think that we ain’t no good.
We fight back, we’ve attacked, then they say they should
Send in troops wearing boots for the greater good,
But let me be honest, I promise,
If a cop come at me, I’ll be lawless.
Like my poppa, fear nada. Take solace
In my hood going hard in my honor.
I’m a queen, don’t need gray just to prove it.
Rock a crown, and you ain’t gon’ remove it.
Royalty in my blood, didn’t choose it,
‘Cause my daddy still king and the truest.
Strapped like backpacks, I pull triggers.
All the clips on my hips change my figure.
‘Cause I figure they think I’m a killer,
May as well bust them thangs, go gorilla.
I hate that my momma’s got struggles.
Bills and food, she be trying to juggle,
But I swear, I’m gon’ pop like a bubble
And make sure don’t have no more troubles.
Click on the Audible image to listen to queen narrator supreme, Bahni Turpin’s interpretation of Bri’s song: (recorded from reviewer's Audible account, with permission from Audible):
There’s no doubt it’s a hit but at what cost? Bri is thrilled with it because she knows the meaning behind her words. Those that love her worry her words will be misinterpreted. When Aunt Pooh hears it she says, “You think these fools in the streets gon’ listen for ‘deeper meaning’? Bri, you can’t go around talking street and not expect somebody to test you.” What’s Bri to do? She wants artistic freedom. She wants to express her feelings. She wants to get rich and solve all of her family’s problems.
As she did in The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas takes social issues that are negatively affecting the black community and makes them personal and relatable. Teens (and adults) experiencing these issues can relate. Teen (and adults) who have no experience with these issues can empathize. THIS IS WHY WE READ. Thomas’ writing is blowing me away. There’s a scene early in the book, where Bri is getting on the bus to go to school. She describes the friendly, old Santa-hat wearing bus driver, the Garden passing by her window, older folks watering their flowers, her friends’ greetings as they climb on the bus. After school, Bri’s view of her neighborhood has drastically changed. She’s riding home with her mom after being manhandled by the guards. She’s staring at what’s left of the Garden after the riots - charred rubble, boarded-up buildings. It’s a powerful contrast. In addition to the powerful stuff, Thomas gives her readers a little romance, an epic friendship, and some laugh-out-loud humor (some of Jay’s lines when she’s in Mom mode are CLASSIC and pretty much everything out of Bri’s grandparents’ mouths - WE NEED MORE GRANDPA!). On the Come Up is every bit as good as The Hate U Give and is bound to be just as popular, especially since the movie is in production with the same team that created THUG. I can’t wait to read whatever Thomas writes next.