Last Updated on November 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 850
On the Come Up is the 2019 sophomore novel of author Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give. While On the Come Up is set in the same neighborhood (Garden Heights) as The Hate U Give and some of the previous novel's events are mentioned, On the Come Up is a standalone novel, not a sequel.
The novel follows the story of narrator Bri Jackson, a sixteen-year-old girl growing up in a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood. Bri is an aspiring rapper who deals with many different experiences throughout the story, including her mother's addiction recovery, poverty, loss, incarceration of a family member, changing relationships, racism, sexism, success, and identity. The novel is divided into three parts.
Part 1: Old School
In this part, readers are introduced to Bri, her friends, and her family. Bri's mother, Jay, is a recovering drug addict who is in night school to become a social worker. Bri's father, who was a rapper, was killed in a shooting before the book began. Bri's older brother, Trey, earned his bachelor's degree but had to move back home due to a lack of job opportunities. Bri is also close to her mother's much younger sister, affectionately called Aunt Pooh. Readers also meet Bri's longtime best friends, Sonny and Malik, and learn that Bri has a crush on Malik.
Bri attends Midtown School of the Arts but is far from a star student. In the first chapter, she receives a call during school that she has been invited to perform at the Ring, a freestyle rap battle famous in her neighborhood. She attends the battle with Aunt Pooh, who acts as her "manager," and ends up winning and getting attention from Supreme, a manager who worked with her father when he was alive.
The next major event happens in chapter 4. Due to Bri's family's struggling financial situation, she sells candy at school to make extra pocket money. Because of this, she is harassed by the school security guards, who demand to search her bag. She refuses, and they shove her to the ground and handcuff her with plastic straps. This sets off a chain of events that drives much of the plot for the rest of the novel.
Later, Bri finds out her mother lost her job at the church. Despite her mother's warnings and Aunt Pooh's eagerness to be her manager, Bri shares her new song, "On the Come Up," with Supreme. At the end of part one, he assures her,
You about to blow up.
Part 2: Golden Age
This part contains the remaining rising action in the novel. Bri starts to make it big with her new song, but people begin assuming that she is a "hoodlum" or "thug" due to the references to violence in the lyrics. She receives both fans and haters from the internet and is unsure how to handle either. Bri also begins wearing her late father's chain, one of the few valuable items her family owns.
In this part, Bri's crush on Malik deepens and she becomes jealous of his new girlfriend, Shana. However, Bri and Malik kiss at the end of the section and realize that it is awkward. Bri also begins to realize that she really does have feelings for Curtis, a boy who rides her school bus.
Readers also learn more about Bri's past trauma. After her father was murdered, her mother developed a drug addiction and was homeless for a period of time; Bri and Trey lived with their grandparents. Bri still calls her mother "Jay" because of the distance formed during that time.
At the end of part 2, Bri is held up at gunpoint by a Crown (a member of the rival gang to Aunt Pooh's Garden Disciples), who steals her chain and, with it, her "family's safety net."
Part 3: New School
In the final part of the novel, Bri reaches her breaking point. She continues destroying nearly all of her personal relationships, and Aunt Pooh is incarcerated. Bri scores a major radio interview but ends up cursing out the host, who antagonizes her with sexist taunts. Bri starts to wonder if she has become the person people thought she was after her song dropped.
Bri does deepen her relationship with Curtis, who, unlike Malik, she does feel "fireworks" with. They begin dating, and Bri starts to rebuild her other relationships, too.
Near the end of the novel, Bri performs a breakout freestyle at the Ring and seems to redefine herself as the person she wants to be. She also decides to stop pursuing music for the time being. By the end of the novel, she has restored her relationships with Malik and Sonny, who begins dating Miles, Supreme's son. Jay (whom Bri now calls "Mom") finds a new job with the school board, Trey has a new girlfriend, and it seems like Bri has reached a "new normal."
In the epilogue, Bri discovers that her music has been tweeted by an unnamed famous rapper. She realizes that this gives her another shot at fame and decides that she will take it, as long as she can do it "her way."