Bri, her mom, and her older brother Trey have hit a rough patch. It's not as rough as when her dad was shot in their front yard or when her mom started messing with drugs or even when her mom had to drop Bri and Trey off at their grandparents because of said drug habit, instilling a fear of abandonment in Bri. No, "rough" this time is Mom losing her job, no food in the kitchen, falling-apart shoes, harassment from bill collectors, and no electricity. But Bri has a plan to make it all good again: make money as a rapper. With her aunt Pooh's help, she gets her first chance to rap for a crowd and it definitely goes well, but it also brings some negative attention. Despite growing up in the Garden District, a "ghetto" in NYC that brims with gang violence between the Crowns and the Garden Disciples, Bri is actually a pretty good kid (having a drug-addicted mom gives a front-row seat to Scared Straight). However, her song makes her out to be a hoodlum. Is that what Bri wants to be known as? Because the more she plays the role, the more she actually becomes a "hood rat." Will she find a balance? Will she and her family make it through this rough patch? Will Bri achieve her dream of being a big-time rapper?
On the Come Up is a great sophomore novel for author Angie Thomas! Bri is a great foil for Starr, whose family is well-to-do (for their geographic dynamics) and actively pursues being a positive representation of an African-American teen in the face of police violence and tensions. Bri, on the other hand, has no qualms about being herself-- whether that self is acceptable by white people's standards or the music industry standards. She struggles a lot, and she makes a lot of mistakes, but she learns and grows to come out on the other side stronger and more sure of herself and her place in the world.