On the Come Up Characters
Brianna "Bri" Jackson
Bri, the novel's protagonist, is a sixteen-year-old aspiring rapper who struggles to grow beyond her lack of self-confidence in order to actualize her dreams of being a performer. She consistently faces turmoil, both through her internal conflicts and through the realities of navigating poverty, racism, and alienation as an economically poor black woman in a predominantly white, wealthy school. When Bri begins to receive attention for her talent as a rapper, she enters a world of exploitation and is manipulated by her late father's old manager, Supreme. Though newfound fame and Supreme's influence initially lead Bri astray, her inner strength and sense of self ultimately prevail.
Trey is Bri's twenty-two-year-old brother, and his compassionate mentorship sharply contrasts with Supreme's. Though he obtained a bachelor's degree in psychology, Trey remains trapped in the cycle of poverty that afflicts his family. Trey's character, perhaps more so than any others in the novel, represents the reality that poverty and racism are complex, systemic forces of oppression that exist in stark contrast to "bootstrap" theories of individual success. Despite adhering exactly to what middle-class society deems successful and respectable, Trey knows that he can never really escape the inherently racist effects of capitalism while his family still struggles, and he works tirelessly to financially support his struggling family.
Jay is Bri and Trey's mother. Jay shoulders the guilt of having abandoned her children while she struggled with the death of her husband and a burgeoning cocaine addiction; when Jay returns to them, she tries to be the solid, resilient mother that she was unable to be for them when they were very young. In an attempt to ensure that her daughter's life is easier than her own, Jay is a strict mother. She does not support her daughter's dream to become a rapper and tries to convince Bri to pursue a more reliable career path. Eventually, though, Jay encourages Bri to live her life on her own terms—particularly after Bri begins to realize the harm she causes by prioritizing objects and fame over family and friends.
Lawless, Bri and Trey's late father, was killed when Trey was ten and Bri was just four. Lawless's legacy as an underground rapper haunts Bri as she attempts to enter the world of music that he once traversed. Bri often feels caught between her wish to honor her father and her desire to carve out her own space in the world.
Aunt Pooh is Bri and Trey's maternal aunt. Pooh is able to financially contribute to Bri's family through her cocaine dealing and involvement with the Garden Disciples. Bri understands that, though Pooh's methods are illegal, the money Pooh contributes to the family is necessary to make ends meet. Pooh is ultimately jailed after being caught with cocaine during a police raid. Only ten years older than Bri, Pooh represents a potential path for Bri—but one that Bri does not take.
Sonny is one of Bri's best friends. Sonny, Bri, and their friend Malik's mothers were pregnant with all three of them at the same time: because of their habit of kicking simultaneously, they came to be called the "Unholy Trinity." Like Bri, Sonny desperately desires to escape the dead-end options of his neighborhood; he hopes to obtain this freedom through college. As a black, gay teen in an impoverished area, Sonny must deal with poverty, racism, and homophobia all at once. When he falls for a black, gay artist, Miles, Sonny must navigate the difficult terrain of wanting to be with Miles while also...
(The entire section is 908 words.)