On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Publisher/Year: HarperAudio, 2019
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Length: 11 hours, 43 minutes
What it is: A young adult novel about a 16-year-old girl named Bri who wants to become the next great rapper. Her father was a rapper who died before his time, but she doesn’t want to be a mini version of him, the way everyone thinks she’ll be; Bri is her own person with her own style. She’s feeling the pressure to succeed: her mother has lost her job and her neighborhood is ruled by gangs. If she can make it big, she can help her family.
Why I read it: Angie Thomas is a great writer.
What I thought: I read Thomas’s debut, The Hate U Give, and while I wasn’t as blown away by it as so many others were, I could appreciate the book; it just felt like Thomas was throwing too much in at once. I didn’t feel like that about On the Come Up; in fact, I liked it more than The Hate U Give. Here, all of the plot points — even the over-the-top ones — felt appropriate; Bri is trying to make it big as a rapper, after all. Thomas beautifully balances bigger social and political issues with the important, personal questions that teens face as they come of age.
The Warmth of Other Suns is one of those books that I’d been meaning to get around to and just never did. I knew I’d love it. I knew it won all the awards when it was published. My friends raved about it. I even name dropped the title, derived from Richard Wright’s Black Boy, in my History 1302 lesson on the Great Migration. Nearly 9 years after its publication, I finally picked up a copy on audiobook and was instantly smitten with Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece.
The book focuses on the lives of Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster. They each had different backgrounds and found varying levels of success, both personally and professionally, after leaving the South. Some were just trying to make it out of Jim Crow alive; others had dreams and felt called to specific parts of the nation. But though the book focuses on these three individuals, readers learn about the myriad reasons why over 6 million African Americans fled the South from around 1915 and continued their exodus all through the 1960s. The impact on the economy, the Southern workforce, American culture, and the arts — not to mention impact on families’ educations and upward mobility — is overwhelming and immeasurable.
Kicked out of an abusive relationship with a young daughter in tow, Stephanie Land was able to stay temporarily stay with her father and his girlfriend, but they were also struggling to get by. Her father was also abusive, and the presence of his daughter and granddaughter was creating even more of a strain. Kicked out yet again, Land and her daughter found themselves living in a homeless shelter for a while, and Land learned the ropes of the various government aid programs available to her. On the day they moved out of the shelter, her mother and stepfather (with whom she has a contentious relationship) came to the US from Europe for a visit. Her mom wanted burgers, so they went out for lunch — Land’s first meal at a restaurant in months. When the bill came, they expected Land to pick up the tab, and when she stammered that she only had $10 to her name, they grumbled and expected her to put those entire $10 towards the bill.
So. Clearly Land doesn’t have much in the way of a support system. She moves from the homeless shelter into another questionable relationship, and then into a tiny, cramped apartment that ends up being infested with black mold. Her daughter ends up with serious health issues from the mold, but they’re trapped for lack of any other living options.
I’ve been working my way through my Pulitzer Project for almost ten years now. I break it down into manageable goals — this year I’m focusing on the winners for the years ending in 9 — which also forces me to at least acknowledge the existence of some of my ugh titles (although it might take me another few decades to crack open the damn remaining Updike title).
The Yearling was one of those books I was dreading. Not because I considered it to be in the same gross misogynist category as Updike, but because from the title alone I already knew how the book was going to play out and I was not down. It’s a book that seems to have always had, through its numerous printings, a tragically dated book cover (for real: do a Google image search) that screams “sad coming-of-age story.”
And it is a sad coming-of-age story, one that I knew I’d probably like but had to work myself up to á la Call of the Wild. Because animals.
The book takes place in Florida shortly after the Civil War. Jody Baxter lives with his parents on Baxter Island, not the name of an actual island but a homesteaded scrap of backwoods that the family has claimed for themselves. Jody is a much-loved only child; all of the other Baxter children died young. His only real friend is Fodder-wing Forrester, a disabled boy roughly the same age who lives miles away; his parents allow him to keep a collection of animals as pets. The Forresters are a rough and tumble, quick-tempered bunch. They, along with the Baxters, survive off farming and hunting. All are at the mercy of the elements.
Jack London’s The Call of the Wild has been on my radar for as long as I can remember, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been hesitant to read it because of the whole animal cruelty thing. But I’ve been quilting up a storm over the summer while listening to audiobooks, and I discovered that Jeff Daniels narrated one of the many versions of this novel that exist, so I finally dove in.
The book is told from the perspective of Buck, a loyal dog in a wealthy Santa Clara family. He’s obedient in his role as the family’s protector, and he has never known cruelty. But it’s the turn of the century and the gold rush is exploding in Alaska. Large dog breeds are in high demand and Buck is kidnapped and sold up north as a sled dog. There, he faces the brutality of being broken in and learning his place within his new pack.