"On the Come Up"

Today we welcome Aimee Appell, a new reviewer to MO Books. Aimee is a pastor, mother, knitter, and avid reader, mostly of science fiction, fantasy, and theology. Last year, she made “a personal commitment to read books that involve perspectives that are outside of my normal experience, which is why most of the books I read these days are about people of different cultures, religions, races, sexual and gender identities, etc.”

Aimee says this has challenged her “to read new voices and new genres, and to push my comfort zone a bit. I hope that I can share some of these new books with readers of “The Missourian’s” MO Books Blog.”

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The details of life for 16-year old Brianna Jackson could not be farther from the life experiences of a Franklin County, Missouri, teen. Yet the struggles this young woman faces in Angie Thomas’ second novel are universal and relatable.

On the Come Up,” Thomas’ new novel, takes place about a year after the events of her first book “The Hate U Give,” but it is not a sequel. It is simply another story about life in the Garden Heights inner city neighborhood, which could be located in any large or mid-sized city in the United States.

At its heart, “On the Come Up” is a coming-of-age story. Brianna, or Bri, is the only daughter of a rising star in the hip-hop world. Her father was gunned down in the driveway before Bri reached the age of five. Her mother, a recovering addict struggling to keep the family on track, dreams of a better life for her children, away from the pressures of Garden Heights.

Bri dreams of her own pathway out of their difficulties—a path comprised of following in her father’s footsteps. She has the talent, but first she must decide whom she trusts and most of all who she is.

“On the Come Up” is written in a style that many readers, especially those of older generations, may find difficult. The language is vernacular and sometimes coarse, and you may need to read the book with urbandictionary.com open beside you. In fact, for anyone unfamiliar with the world of hip-hop, “On the Come Up” could be a mini-syllabus, offering a crash course in the most influential artists of the past 30 years.

Both of Thomas’ hard-hitting novels may be best experienced in audio format—making it possible to truly hear the voices of the characters come to life. But whether you choose to read both or to listen to them, the books bring to life a perspective that is too often difficult for the majority of Americans to experience, and one that is often left out of the national conversation, that of the young African-American woman.

That fact alone would be enough reason to recommend this “Young Adult” novel to people of all ages and experiences. But Thomas’s storytelling goes beyond a description of life in the inner city and connects to the reader on a deeper level.

There are no stereotypes here, though the characters have elements of many traditional inner city stereotypes, and Bri-as-narrator is intently aware of this.

Thomas’ characters are multi-faceted and moving, and we are invited to imagine ourselves in their shoes, or at least in the shoes of Bri as she navigates her conflicting feelings for her family, friends and community.

As far removed as Bri’s life may look from ours on the surface, her experiences will feel familiar to anyone who has ever struggled to speak his or her own truth in a world that threatens to tell you who you are, and what you should say.