Another book from my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and a June 2021 acquisition (I bought this in my Summer 2021 Book Token Splurge, picture here (scroll down), ordered from Hive or (this year’s one will be done IN A LOCAL INDIE BOOKSHOP that’s about to open!) and I’m pleased to say that I have read all of the books in that picture apart from “Wanderland”, which is waiting to be a me-and-Emma read).

This is the eleventh book I’ve completed from the 20 Books project (and I’m currently reading Book 12) and also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 challenge pile so things are feeling a bit more manageable and positive for both of those challenges now …

Angie Thomas – “On the Come Up”

(30 June 2021 – Book Token Splurge)

Thousands of people just heard me act like that. Millions more may see the video. They won’t care that my life is a mess and I had every right to be mad. they’ll just see an angry black girl from the ghetto, acting like they expected me to act.

Supreme laughs to himself. ‘You played the role,’ he says. ‘Goddamn, you played the role.’ (p. 346)

I really enjoyed “The Hate U Give” when I read it in 2018 and have been looking forward to this one for ages. Set in the same location as the earlier novel, Garden Heights, the events in it happen a little after the killing and protests referenced in that book, so there’s a heightened awareness amongst the inner-city Black kids who are again the focus of the book about the dangers out there from police as well as gang members.

Our central character, Bri, is 16 and a talented rapper – a talent she inherited from her late dad. Her mum, eight years sober and trying to keep the household together, and her older brother, with a degree in psychology and a job in a pizza place, aren’t that keen on her rapping, wanting her to concentrate on her education. But it’s her life and when she gets notoriety following a rap battle at the local venue and then a song she puts out after she gets thrown to the floor by her school security guards, she has an opportunity to better their lives but also has to make a choice as to whether to go with her own authentic self or the view of her that outsiders will have. Added complication: her one song was written ironically but will not (and is not) seen in its full layers of meaning by its audience.

I love all the supporting cast – first we have gay Sonny, who is his own self and friend and a fully rounded character but serves to remind us of the challenges of being gay in a hyper-masculinised community and Malik, talented film-maker who speaks his truth to Bri and isn’t always appreciated, who are at the same school, a White-majority arts school that could be accused of using its Black and Brown students to gain kudos and funding, There’s a coalition of students standing strong together against the racism of the school, modelling how that could be done. Aunt Pooh, who supports Bri’s career but whose money comes from drug dealing is a positive character who’s shown as having lost her way, and Bri’s paternal grandparents are firm and stern and really don’t like her mum. Mum Jay has two good women friends, Sonny and Malik’s mums, and I like how her life is portrayed, struggling for her family but giving back to the community, too. Her pride but resourcefulness and struggle to accept welfare is very moving. The White characters, James the record exec who has all the stereotypes in the book and (literal) Karen, the pro-gun woman who reports Bri’s song, and the headmaster, who does listen and learn, demonstrate pretty well all the ways you can impose stereotypes, racism and micro-aggressions onto people different to yourself but also do better. So we can learn from the book, but it’s not didactic or preachy in the slightest as far as I read it.

I think this is aimed at YA audiences, although very readable by adults; as such there’s a quite sweet romance, as there has to be, and also a certain amount of wish-fulfilment as the plot unwinds: characters surprise, a school principal is willing to learn, and it turns out that standing by your authentic self, even if it loses you an opportunity, is a valuable thing to do. Well, yes, wish-fulfilment but also a positive message and a hopeful one, too. Just as good at “The Hate U Give” and I must pick up “Concrete Rose”, too.

This was book number 11 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 5/28 – 23 to go!