Ears on the Odyssey

Review: On the Come Up

Craving a coming-of-age story with an urban, hip-hop flavor? Tune into Angie Thomas’ latest novel about an aspiring rapper’s ascension.

Brianna Jackson is a hip-hop prodigy living in the shadow of her father, an underground rap legend murdered before he got his come up. Life in Garden Heights, unfortunately, is anything but accommodating. Already labeled a hoodlum by her high school’s administration, Brianna’s situation worsens when she posts her controversial debut song online. The tune thrusts her into the spotlight as well as into conflict with family, friends, and even a local gang. Ultimately, Brianna must choose between a riskier, easier path to fame or remaining true to herself. 

Lending her voice to Brianna, Bahni Turpin demonstrates a profound versatility as she switches between characters, each shift manifesting strong and unique personalities. At times her masculine voices struck me as tonally comical, yet remembering my sisters’ habits of impersonating men, my irritation became appreciation, believing that this is how a teenage girl would impersonate men. Whether or not this effect was intentional or just a matter of my own imaginative interpretation, I perceived being audience to the internal monologue of a teenage girl narrating an extended diary entry, an aspect that fostered a familiarity between Bri and me. Further enhancing the experience is Turpin’s ability to emote through sheer verbal performance, prompting my pulse to spike from anger or my throat to tighten in nearly visceral sympathy.

If there’s an area in which I found Turpin’s narration lacking, it’s the segments in which various characters rapped. Out of her element, or perhaps lacking the rhythmic support of a musical track, Turpin’s narration was closer to reading aloud rather than the lyrical poetry of a hip-hop architect. Although temporarily, and somewhat laughably, disconnected, the smooth-as-butter narration of Bahni Turpin repeatedly coaxed me back on track. In fairness to Turpin, the verbal dexterity possessed by some of the world’s foremost and successful rhyming wordsmiths is something I severely lack, so maybe I shouldn’t judge her too harshly. After all, I can’t say I’d have performed them any better were I reading them myself.

If you’re a fan of The Hate U Give, then give Angie Thomas’ follow-up novel a go. On the Come Up boldly confronts systemic oppression while possessing enough charm and levity to prevent it from irreparably traumatizing readers. Thomas’ sophomore novel serves as a lens through which readers see how the odds are frequently stacked against African American youth while simultaneously existing as an homage to hip-hop, an avenue through which the author expressed herself creatively as a teenager.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin. 11 hours, 43 minutes. HarperAudio, 2019.

Andy Myers is an aspiring Librarian toiling his way through the MLIS program at Wayne State University. Andy embraced audiobooks to make lengthy commutes more manageable, but has since fallen in love with this wonderful avenue to enjoying literature. An occasional thespian, Andy understands the power of a great performance and believes that an outstanding narrator can enhance just about any book.

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