Thought Box

Out of the Ghetto

Out of the Ghetto

by Deepa Gahlot April 5 2019, 3:28 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 57 secs

Angie Thomas was a teen rapper herself, so her portrayal of this cut-throat world in her new book is accurate and moving, peppered with raw humour. 

The Hate U Give, her first novel, was a scathing account of racism, seen from the point of view of a teenage black girl, was a huge bestseller, and a hard act to follow. But her second, On The Come Up, is every bit as powerful and affecting as the first, and has an equally sassy sixteen-year-old protagonist Brianna.

The book is set in the same black ghetto of Garden Heights as the first - and the incident of an innocent black boy being shot by a white cop and the riots that follow, is referred to here.  Brianna’s story has startling similarities with the recent Bollywood movie, Gully Boy; she too wants to take the hip-hop way out of poverty.

Angie Thomas, author of 'On the Come Up'

Brianna’s rapper father Lawless was gunned down by gangsters, and went into the hip hop hall of fame. To cope with the trauma, her mother Jay took to drugs and abandoned Brianna and her older brother Trey at their grandparents’ home.  She returned, however, and stayed clean to look after her kids, but it is a hand to mouth existence.  When she loses even the low-paid job she had, the power is cut off because they can’t pay the bill, and the fridge is almost empty. Jay has to swallow her pride and accept food given as charity at Christmas.

Trey is the dutiful son, who interrupts his education to work in a pizza parlour and support his family. Brianna has inherited her father’s talent for rapping, and hopes she will make it big. She wins a rap contest at a popular joint called the Ring, that launches her, but she needs much more to reach real stardom.

Thomas has not just captured colourful ghetto speak, she has populated Brianna’s world with marvellous characters, like her Aunt Pooh and her boyfriend Scrap who become drug dealers for want of better opportunities. Brianna’s best buddies are Sonny and Malik, called the Unholy Trinity by their mothers who are also friends and always willing to help each other. There is a shady agent, Supreme, who has no qualms about selling the image of blacks as hoodlums to white music executives who want to perpetrate the stereotype for profit. As Supreme tells Brianna, “You know what white kids in the suburbs love? Listening to shit that scares their parents… You scare the hell outta their folks, they’ll flock to you like birds.”  

An incident at school unnerves Brianna, but also gives her instant success, through a song she uploads - On The Come Up.  Two guards at her school snatched her bag to search and when she resisted, they threw her on the floor and handcuffed her. It is captured on video, that obviously racist act and Brianna’s incendiary song leads to a riot at the school, and she finds herself sucked into the very situation she was fighting against - having people believe she is a ghetto rat and drug dealer.

Brianna navigates with strength and grace through tough times, a broken heart, a budding romance and the struggle to make it on her own terms. 

On The Come Up

By Angie Thomas

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Pages: 465

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