To say that the first weeks of Black History Month 2019, were a mess would be an understatement. With so many controversies lately including various companies using racist caricatures of black people in the name of fashion, all of the positives of this month have just been completely washed over. So when I found out Angie Thomas’ new book “On The Come Up” came out on February 6, and that she would be in Atlanta that following weekend in conversation with fellow Young Adult fiction author, Nic Stone, I knew it was the feel-good content I needed.
As we waited for the event to start, fellow VOXer, Brooklyn Williams and I talked about how amazing of a book “The Hate U Give” was and how excited we were to read what was in store for Thomas’ new book. When the authors came on stage you could feel a sense of calming energy coming off of them. Listening to the two of them talk was like watching a conversation between your two best friends as they talked everything from world politics to the cute shoes they bought to match with the other. One audience member joked asking them when the “#Nangie” podcast was coming.
“On The Come Up” deals with 16-year-old Bri, who dreams of one day making it big as a hip hop legend and the obstacles that are in her way. If it isn’t obvious from the cover and description, hip hop is a major influence in this book. During the conversation, Thomas talked about how when she was younger she got into hip hop because it was something seen as “a way out.” She then went on to talk about how it was hard writing the book due to the pressure she felt as an author and of Bri’s story being compared to Starr’s in “The Hate U Give.”
One of the emphasized points of the night’s conversation was the idea that there’s not just one way to be a black girl. She talked about how the protagonist of both her books live in the same neighborhood of Garden Heights, yet they don’t know each other. This was to really drive home the point that these two girls could very well exist in the very same neighborhood and have two completely different experiences. Pulling from experiences she had when hearing praise for “THUG,” Starr’s character in particular, it was common for Thomas to hear comments about how “well spoken” Starr was. Thomas’ goal with writing the character of Bri was to show how there shouldn’t be one accepted mold of how black girls need to act in order for their problems to be accepted as valid.
As we waited in the book signing line for close to two hours (that were totally worth it) I reflected how conversations around YA had changed since the first time I saw Thomas and Stone speak back in 2016. That event had been for the release of Stone’s book “Dear Martin,” that talks about talks about police brutality from the perspective of a young black boy named Jystice.
I took a break from reading YA books around the time because the only stories that I could find were centered around white protagonists. Two years later, it’s evident how these stories helped to shine a light on authors who were creating more stories centered around teens of color. Three years ago I couldn’t go into a Barnes & Noble bookstore and find a book that wasn’t centered around a straight, white kid without doing extensive research beforehand. But just last month over the winter break, I went to my local bookstore and found a whole section dedicated to stories about marginalized teens that spread through every genre from romantic comedies to Sci-fi. This type of push didn’t just happen overnight. While there still is a long way to go to get the stories of marginalized teens to an equal amount as their white counterparts, stories like “The Hate U Give” and “Dear Martin” that dominate on the New York Times’ bestsellers list help to show publishers that we are more than ready to read and absorb stories about people like us.