In 2017, Angie Thomas’s phenomenal debut novel, The Hate U Give, debuted at the top of The New York Times young adult best-seller list, staying put for more than 50 weeks. A year later, the movie adaptation was released. Now, just one year on, the world has once again been blessed with Angie Thomas’s groundbreaking storytelling with her new novel, On the Come Up.
On the Come Up follows Sixteen-year-old Brianna, as the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
Your debut, The Hate U Give, debuted (and stayed) at the top of The New York Times YA best seller list in 2017, the movie adaptation was released in 2018 and your newest novel, On the Come Up released this year. How surreal have these past few years been for you?
They’ve been very surreal. The past few years have been better than anything I could’ve imagined. It’s an honour to know that so many people took a chance and read my books. Even more so, it’s an honour to know that they’ve affected so many people in profound ways.
Although On the Come Up is not a direct sequel to The Hate U Give, they’re set in the same neighbourhood. What made you decide to set both books in the same place?
I wanted to return to Garden Heights to show what it’s like for a young person after Khalil – how do they navigate this world that has been changed so much because of his murder and because of the unrest in response to his murder. I also wanted to show that two, young black women could come from the same neighbourhood and not only have different personalities but different lives.
How did the experience of writing On the Come Up differ to that of writing your debut, The Hate U Give?
I put a lot of pressure on myself at first which made it difficult. But eventually I decided to do what I did with The Hate U Give and write it for myself; write a book that I would enjoy. That truly changed the entire experience.
On the Come Up does a wonderful job of highlighting the way society consistently and unfairly stereotypes black people. Where there any specific stereotypes or judgements you felt were particularly important for you to tackle in the novel?
I definitely wanted to tackle the stereotype of the angry black girl. Because of it, so often black women are made to feel as if they can’t have any anger or frustration. Bri has anger, but her anger does not define her nor does it reduce her intelligence, as the stereotype insinuates. She channels her anger through her art to make herself heard, which, in turn, empowers her. Anger can be empowering if we allow it to be.
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Happy book bday, Bri. Your story was hard to tell because so much of it was my story. The teen rap dreams & the struggles too. I was that kid at the food bank with the fake Timbs. I hope by telling our story, someone will feel less alone. Welcome to the world, love. #OnTheComeUp
The protagonists in both The Hate U Give and On the Come Up are incredibly strong, powerful and motivated young black girls. Although there’s still a long way to go in terms of diversity within publishing, how does it feel to know your books are giving black teens across the globe narratives and protagonists they may not have been able to experience in past years?
It feels great, and I hope that they can have even more of those protagonists. Bri and Starr do not reflect every single black girl because our stories are all so different, but I hope that both girls give them mirrors and show them how incredible they are.
Brianna’s raps are frequently integrated into On the Come Up, what was it like not only writing a novel but writing lyrics alongside that?
It was tough at first because I’m not a rapper, and I really wanted to pay respect to the art form and the artists behind it. That meant I couldn’t just throw raps together – I had to invest time and effort into them.
If you could place On the Come Up in one person’s hands, who would that be and why?
A kid in poverty who feels powerless.
Do you have any future works in the pipeline and if so, can you give us any hints as to what we can expect?
I’m currently working on my third novel. I can’t say a lot, but I will say it is also set in Garden Heights and the main character is someone my readers will know. (But it’s not a sequel to either book!)
Taking into account the journey you’ve been on these past few years if you could tell teen Angie one thing, what would you say to her?
It’s going to get better. Better than you could’ve ever imagined. Hold on. “