HS Insider

‘On the Come Up,’ Angie Thomas gets her rap on

High School Insider Maxwell Surprenant, left, interviews author Angie Thomas at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Maxwell Surprenant)

“I want a LGBTQ Twilight. I want a black Hunger Games. And I really want a black Harry Potter. I want publishers to allow black authors — marginalized authors — to tell our stories that should be told. The fact is: white authors tell every story under the sun. Give us our chance,” Young Adult author Angie Thomas said.

On tour, Thomas presented about writing, rapping, and her books at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. No surprise that that it was a sold out event.

Thomas wrote the award-winning “The Hate U Give,” released in February 2017. The book has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 112 weeks.  

Thomas’s second novel, “On the Come Up,” released in February 2019, proves to be another hit among teens and adults. Following a successful “The Hate U Give” movie, Fox 2000 is currently developing “On the Come Up” into a feature film.

Since Thomas was a teen, she wanted to become a rapper. She wrote “On the Come Up” in rap.

“The most difficult part at first was getting into the skillset of it,” she said. “I really respect hip-hop and real rappers and I wanted to pay homage to it.”

But “On the Come Up” is more than a hip-hop book. It’s a coming of age story.

The main character, 16-year-old Brianna, who goes by Bri, dreams of becoming a famous rapper. Bri’s father was a legend rapper, but died before making it big. It’s not easy for Bri to get her come up as she deals with challenges like being raised by a single mother, dealing with food insecurity, and even being served an eviction notice. Through her rap music, she’s fighting for respect, equality, and a chance to break free.

Thomas was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Like Bri, Thomas knows about hard times.

“When my mom unexpectedly lost her job, it felt like it changed my family’s entire life in one blink of an eye,” Thomas said. “I was that kid at the food bank with the fake Timberlands on.”


Breaking Barriers and Stereotypes

Thomas’s main characters — Starr, from “The Hate U Give,” and Bri, from “On the Come Up” — are two African American female teens from the fictional, mostly poor, black neighborhood Garden Heights. Outside of that, their stories are separate and different.

“I wanted to show that not even when two black girls are from the same neighborhood will their lives be identical or their personalities be the same,” Thomas said.

Starr is respectful and well-spoken, and she makes people feel comfortable. Bri is the opposite.

“I wanted to write about this angry black girl who is going to make you feel uncomfortable,” Thomas said. “Why can’t Bri have those moments where she loses her cool? She should be allowed to be angry, frustrated, and aggressive. The problem is not her — it’s society.”

Thomas writes with purpose, she said.

“If there’s one black girl who reads my book and says, ‘I’m enough,’ that’s enough for me,” Thomas said.

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