I read The Hate U Give a couple years ago when it first came out and it was one of the best books I read that year, so when I saw that Angie Thomas was coming out with a new book, I got in line (but not literally because I’m not made of money and can’t afford to buy every book I want, so I got this one from the library).
I’ve had so little time to read lately that I knew I’d never get around to reading this one, so I got the audiobook from my library and that was definitely the right move. First of all, Bahni Turpin narrates it and I’ve gushed about her before on this blog, so you know how much I love her. Second of all, the book is about rap, which is meant to be listened to, so listening to this audiobook instead of reading it just makes sense.
The story is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Bri growing up in Washington Heights, the same neighborhood where Starr lives in The Hate U Give. Bri makes references to “some kid who got shot by a cop” and the effects that has on the neighborhood. It doesn’t sound like Bri knew Starr or Khalil, but she’s stuck dealing with the ramifications of his shooting as cops flood the area. As Bri puts it, it’s meant to feel like their “friendly neighborhood cop,” but it feels more like “We’re keeping an eye on you.”
Bri’s dad was an underground rap legend and was just about to make it big when he was mistaken for a gang member and shot to death right outside his home. Bri was four years old and inside the house at the time it happened. Her mom (who witnessed the shooting) turned to drugs and left Bri and her older brother at their paternal grandparents’ house until she got her shit together. It took years and Bri still doesn’t call her “mom”. Bri loves her, she just got so freaked out by running into her at the park when she was strung out and so not herself that Bri’s been calling her by her first name ever since.
Now Bri and her brother are back to living with their mom and things are going pretty well until her mom gets laid off and has a hard time finding another job. They end up going to the food pantry, having their power shut off, and dealing with the landlady banging on their door demanding past-due rent.
So Bri has some problems to deal with at home, not to mention the usual teenage stuff (dating, not dating, losing friends, etc.). Rap is supposed to be her way out of that. She’s really good at it and her dad is still a legend 12 years after he died. So people either expect her to be great because of her dad or they don’t expect much from her at all because she’s just a girl. Bri hates both of these because she wants to be known for her own accomplishments, not her dad’s, and because sexism sucks.
Her aunt is completely on board and wants to be Bri’s manager, so she arranges appearances for her in “The Ring,” which is an underground rap battle run by a well-known local DJ. The problem with that is it’s not a plan. That might (and does) get her some YouTube views, but she’s going to need more than that to get a studio to bet on her.
So she starts working with a manager who calls himself Supreme and represented Bri’s dad before they had a falling out and went their separate ways. Supreme can get Bri to the top, but his path involves painting Bri as the thug the world already assumes she is. She’s not, but her temper doesn’t do anything to contradict that assumption and Supreme just wants to work with it.
This book deals with racism, sexism, family, poverty, addiction, dating, friendship, Internet dating, what it means to be true to yourself, and if getting to the top is worth it if it means compromising yourself and feeding stereotypes.
Most of all, I loved this book for the same reason I loved The Hate U Give, because it’s full of a rich cast of characters, each of whom is as fleshed out and multi-dimensional as Bri.
What did you read/listen to this week? Any other new books by a favorite author?