#Review: ON THE COME UP, by Angie Thomas

I shouldn’t write this tonight. I am tired, y’all; there was no school on Monday because of Presidents’ Day and this week has still been at least six years long. I don’t even have to go to work on Friday because I have a training all day and I still don’t know how the hell I’m going to make it through the rest of the week. It’s just been bullshit on top of bullshit on top of bullshit on top of bullshit, and that’s just been within the walls of my building. It’s not like there hasn’t been substantial bullshit going on in the real world, too. There’s been plenty. I am as tired of white men and our bullshit as I have ever been in my life and the notion that I am almost by definition guaranteed to be less tired of white men than damn near every person of color and damn near every woman on earth is practically incomprehensible. I don’t know how any of y’all make it through a day without killing any of us. I really don’t.

You may remember that I liked Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give quite a lot. In fact, it was my second favorite book of the year. I ordered her follow-up novel On the Come Up a few weeks before it released and was up far too late last night because I couldn’t put it down. (Note: “follow-up” is a decent way to describe the book, which alludes to the events of THUG and is set a year later and in the same neighborhood, but does not share any major characters. There are a couple of shop owners and neighborhood figures and the like who I think appear in both, but I’d need to reread THUG to be sure.)

On the Come Up is not as important a book as THUG, but I think I might have liked it more anyway. Bri, the main character, is a neophyte rapper and the daughter of a local hiphop legend who was shot and killed when she was very young. Hiphop was a big part of THUG, but this book is utterly drenched in it, and honestly I’d love to hear some of the raps she performs in this book actually recorded. My understanding is that Angie Thomas at least dabbled in rap herself, and I can absolutely hear this kid performing the lyrics she writes throughout the book. Let’s be real here; given my previous experience with this author and the subject matter, there was no chance I was going to dislike this book. The only question was how much I was going to love it. Will it end up at #2 on my year-end list? Perhaps not, because, again, this book doesn’t feel as important as THUG— which is less a criticism of Come Up and more of a statement that if you haven’t goddamned read THUG yet you should get off your ass and do it.

I look back over this and realize I haven’t really discussed the plot of the damn book at all; chalk that up to being tired. In lieu of me rewriting it, let me just post the blurb from the back of the book, which is a perfectly fair description:

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. 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.  

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

Give it a read, y’all. Angie Thomas is a goddamn national treasure; you should be appreciating her while we’ve got her.

Double book review!

I read these back to back, and they are very similar books, right down to my actual opinions of them, so let’s do a dual review sort of thingie here. I ordered Kill the Queen a month or so ago after reading an article that recommended a bunch of epic fantasy by women, and Throne of Glass is the first book in a series whose final book just came out and which apparently a lot of my friends enjoyed, because I saw alllll sorts of tweets and Instagrams and all sorts of stuff when it came out. So I jumped in. Throne of Glass has six or seven sequels out and the series is complete; Kill the Queen’s second book comes out in June or July and I’m not certain how long it’s planned to run.

tl;dr: neither book is perfect but both have a lot of potential and you should check them both out.

Somewhat more detailed: both books feature young, orphaned women as the main protagonist (I’ll admit to rolling my eyes when KtQ’s protagonist first mentioned her parents were dead; I read that book second) although KtQ’s Evie is ten years older than seventeen-year-old Celaena in ToG. Both books spend the majority of their time in or around castles and dealing with the problem of royalty, although in different ways; Celaena, an actual assassin, is freed from jail by the crown prince at the beginning of the book and offered her freedom in exchange for serving as the king’s assassin for four years, and Evie is seventeenth in line for the throne at the beginning of KtQ, although … well, some stuff happens that sorta moves her up in the line of succession a bit. Spoiler alert, I guess. Celaena is uber-competent from the jump– if anything, a bit too competent for a seventeen-year-old; Evie starts off kinda useless but gets over it quickly.

ToG is Young Adults, although it’s the kind of YA that bitchy old men like myself can read without complaint. It’s real YA, as in the publisher markets it that way and that’s where you find it at bookstores, not the sexist “fantasy written by a woman, starring a woman, so it must be YA” YA. KtQ might fool you for about fifty pages and then the shit hits the fan and it definitely ain’t YA no more.

As I said, both books have some weaknesses, although ToG’s are less weaknesses of the book and more consequences of being YA: Celaena is an impressive badass, but I was never really sold on the idea that this seventeen-year-old who has been in jail for a couple of years working the salt mines was a world-renowned assassin. She doesn’t really ever come off as super assassiny, I guess? I mean, she’s a bitchy asshole, and I mean that as a compliment– I like her personality– but there’s a bit too much tell and not enough show, and I want much more backstory on her. But there’s six more books coming, so I’ll probably get it. In KtQ’s corner, the book begins with (spoiler) a Red Wedding-esque massacre that Evie is one of a very small number of survivors of, and I kinda feel like PTSD should have played a bit more of a role in her story? There’s also not as much societal upheaval as I’d guess from a book that starts with the utter destruction of damn near the entire (spoiler) ruling family. Like, nobody really seems to notice much other than a day of mourning.

Both books have romance; in no case does the romance go quite where you think it’ll go, which is cool. Throne of Glass also has a great bit where it is made clear that the book was written by a woman, and one who has thought about the biological ramifications of her protagonist basically being enslaved in a salt mine for a couple of years.

Also! I like the worldbuilding and the magic in ToG quite a bit, and again, I like Celaena quite a bit despite not quite believing in her, and despite being fucking called Kill the Queen, Kill the Queen‘s story managed to surprise me twice. I mean, it’s called Kill the Queen. You might imagine there’s some queen-killing! And there is! And it’s surprising anyway. It’s weird, but it works.

So, yeah: these are both four-star-out-of-five reads, with KtQ’s excellent ending very nearly pushing it up another half-star or so, and they’re both definitely checking out. I’ve already ordered the next two books in the Throne of Glass series, and I’ll be buying the sequel to Kill the Queen, called Protect the Prince, when it comes out in a few months. Check ’em both out.

Briefly

This thing I’m doing on Saturdays lately where I get up and spend the first two or three hours of the day reading is really working for me. I finished an entire book cover-to-cover this morning. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about me, but I like books.

Also, I finally gave up and went to the doctor last night after work, only to be told that my suspicion that my cold had morphed into a sinus infection was probably correct, but that said sinus infection was almost certainly viral and so there really wasn’t anything to be done other than wait it out and drink something called “throat coat” tea, which strikes me as a weirdly pornographic name for a beverage.

Today, I feel shittier than I have in the last several days. We’re up to two weeks and some change now, I think, and I’m heartily tired of this.

The end.

Quick question for the readers

I have not seen The King and I in many years, and I have fond memories of it– not quite at the point where I really have anything memorized, mind you, but I think about it more often than I think about a lot of things. At any rate, I have a puzzlement for y’all.

Those of you who are readers, and especially those of you who enjoy speculative fiction of some stripe or another: how good are you at ignoring bad and/or problematic aspects of a work and concentrating on the bits that you like? This may sound a bit more serious than I want it to; I’m not necessarily talking about anything like, oh, the racist and sexist elements of The King and I that will likely get on my nerves much more now than they did when I last watched it, probably two decades ago now, but more like a book with propulsive writing, interesting characters, and a plot that makes no Goddamn sense at all. Or, say, a science fiction novel that gets a lot of basic science stuff wrong, but not in a handwaves-it-away sort of sense, just gets it wrong. This is probably going to be something that’s going to be hard to answer in a general sense, but is there something (poor characterization, for example) that you’re generally able to put aside, or is there something that will always throw you out of a book that you’re reading even if you’re otherwise enjoying it without the troublesome part?

I will provide more context if I decide that the book I’m reading right now deserves a full review, but for right now I’m just curious.

(Snow day, again, today. We had an ice storm last night, and I woke up to a two-hour delay that became a full cancel just as I was getting ready to leave to take the boy to school. He had school. I did not. Video games and comic books all day for the win.)

#weekendcoffeeshare: no dying allowed edition

If we were having coffee, reading would be a nice, uncontroversial subject to talk about. I read two and a half entire books yesterday, which is both impressive and not impressive: the two entire books were a novella and a novelette, respectively, Robert Jackson Bennett’s Vigilance and Warren Ellis’ Dead Pig Collector. The two took maybe an hour and a half taken together. Then again, the half book was the back half of Dune, so I think I still get credit for reading a lot yesterday. I’ll likely finish a book today– I’m reading Mallory Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster right now, and it’s another short one, so whatever I go to after that probably ought to have some meat to it.

That said, it would probably be best to choose an oval or rectangular table, and maybe we ought to be sitting at the far ends. I thought yesterday I was most of the way out of my cold, and then we went out to dinner and got seated too close to the door and I kept getting blasted with cold air. I feel distinctly worse than I did yesterday, and in a different way from how I’ve felt poorly over the last several days. I already know that the week after this one is going to be short, between Presidents’ Day and an inservice I’m attending on the 22nd, so I’m running out of weeks where I might be at work all five days in February. I don’t have enough sick days left right now so I’d really prefer for this shit just to go away now, please. I’m pretty sure what I had last week wasn’t contagious but hell if I know what I’m heading into right now. Whee!

The good news: Sunday is a good day to sit around and binge The Great British Baking Show, and being moderately sick gives me all the excuse I need. I’m watching the most recent season right now, and … man, are these folks British. Most of the stuff they’re making from episode to episode is stuff I’ve never heard of, too, which is always fun– and half the time it’s stuff the contestants have never heard of. It’s not a bad show. Check it out, if you happen to have a Netflix subscription.

What’s been up with you lately?