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.
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.
Set in 1829 and based on a true story, Burial Rites follows the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman who was executed in Iceland. Having been convicted of murdering her former master, Natan, Agnes is sent to an isolated farm to await her execution. The family who owns the farm is horrified by this turn of events. Jón Jónsson, the farmer, is resigned to the family’s role, but his wife, Margret, is furious at being forced to risk their daughters’ safety by housing such a woman. As Agnes awaits her execution, she has selected a young priest named Tóti to be her spiritual adviser; no one knows why she has selected such an inexperienced person for the task, especially since she has no previous ties to him.
Margret puts Agnes to work around the farm, keeping a strict and watchful eye on her every move. Agnes willingly and ably follows orders, stopping only when Tóti comes by for their sessions together. Haltingly, Agnes’s life story begins to take shape, and the truth behind her involvement in Natan’s death begins to emerge.
So. The first–and last–time I read something by David Foster Wallace was back in 2009, when I read Infinite Jest as a participant in Infinite Summer (except, for me, it turned into Infinite Year). I liked the book even when I hated it, and I knew I’d be reading more DFW in the future. Even though Oblivion and The Pale King have been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for a really long time, I decided to go the audiobook route for my second DFW encounter and ended up requesting his first novel, The Broom of the System, from the library. And since I know that the descriptions of his books never fully do them justice (because he jumps all over the place plot-wise), I chose the book arbitrarily based on the fact that I liked the cover of the most recent paperback edition. Seriously.
I’m just gonna go ahead and do something I never do here. I’m going to use the publisher’s summary of this book, because…
At the center of The Broom of the System is the betwitching (and also bewildered) heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. The year is 1990 and the place is a slightly altered Cleveland, Ohio, which sits on the edge of a suburban wasteland-the Great Ohio Desert. Lenore works as a switchboard attendant at a publishing firm, and in addition to her mind-numbing job, she has a few other problems. Her great-grandmother, a one-time student of Wittgenstein, has disappeared with twenty-five other inmates of the Shaker Heights Nursing Home. Her beau (and boss), editor-in-chief Rick Vigorous, is insanely jealous. And her cockatiel, Vlad the Impaler, has suddenly started spouting a mixture of psychobabble, Auden, and the King James Bible, which may propel him to stardom on a Christian fundamentalist television program.
…yeah. How is anyone supposed to summarize that?