Review Blog

Feb 05 2019

On the come up by Angie Thomas

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Walker Books, 2019. ISBN 9781406372168
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. 'I might have to kill someone tonight'. This is the startling first line of Thomas's novel, but the 'killing' isn't what it sounds like. Bri is a high school student who is finding it hard to sit through school when all she wants to do is write and perform rap poetry, and she has her sights set on wiping out her competitors in the rap contest held in the local Boxing Ring. Her father was the famous rapper Lawless, murdered outside their home when she was only a four years old. Bri is all set to continue in his path.
The setting is a black ghetto in the U.S., where gangs roam and the police target black kids. Bri's mother is a recovered drug addict who wants her daughter to break free, go to college and make a better future. But Bri has her heart set on being a rap star, and maybe her drug-dealing Aunt Pooh or her father's ex-manager, Supreme, will help her get there.
The novel is written in Bri's voice, and whilst the slang may at first be unfamiliar and off-putting to a non-American reader, the reader is gradually drawn into Bri's world and the language becomes very real and natural. The author, Angie Thomas, is herself a former teen rapper, and the world she describes sounds authentic, written from her experience.
Bri's natural talent and determination seem to be leading her to success, but hand in hand with that comes controversy and danger. The perils of social media have also to be navigated. Bri finds herself having to make decisions without anyone to really guide her. Although the world of gangsters, drugs and rap contests might be foreign, Bri's struggles to find the right path through it all, and find her true values, makes a story most teenagers could readily identify with.
I found it to be an engrossing story and I came away with a new appreciation of the complexity of improvised rap poetry. This book, set in the U.S., would make an interesting comparison with Limelight by Solli Raphael (2018), which describes an Australian teenage slam poet, and his messages of social equality and self-empowerment.
Helen Eddy

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