This is a wonderful new YA novel by the author of, and set in the same community as, bestseller The Hate U Give. While On the Come Up is not as obviously tied to specific current events as T.H.U.G. (which dealt with the aftermath of a police officer shooting an unarmed black youth), it is a very timely coming of age story in which racism, poverty, violence and the struggle to find your own path and express your own creativity is explored through an engaging and likeable main character and a rich supporting cast.
Thomas may be drawing on her own autobiographical story here a little bit, since she herself was a rapper before she was a bestselling author, and the novel focuses on 16-year-old Bri, a talented young rapper who dreams of making it big. In a family and a neighbourhood rife with poverty and constantly threatened by gang violence, Bri discovers there are many possible paths to “making it” — and she has to decide what that’s going to look like for her. She is thrust unwillingly into the public eye when she is targeted by the security guards at her school in an incident of racial profiling — and has to decide if she can use that incident to propel her music career, and what she will do with the platform she’s unexpectedly been handed.
Thomas has a gift for creating characters so vivid, so believable and real that they pull middle-aged, middle-class white ladies like me into the world inhabited by girls like Bri and their friends and families. I could not put this book down and raced through it in barely more than a day. Yes, the novel has important things to say about racism and politics — but it’s also so incredibly well-written, enjoyable and entertaining that there’s no sense of it ever feeling preachy or didactic. I can’t wait for what she writes next.