I requested and received advance copies of both books free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.
This month I’ve read two YA books, both by authors whose debuts I read and loved last year, so I was very lucky and very excited to get early copies of both of these.
Both of these books not only take on some serious and relevant issues, but also give a voice to what have traditionally been (and continue to be, although it may be improving) under-represented members of society: a British-Pakistani teen and a young black American girl.
Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan. Illustrated by Amrit Bird. Cover design by Rachel Vale.
I thought Khan’s debut I Am Thunder last year was brilliant – well-written, ground-breaking in the way it looked at radicalisation and with huge contemporary YA appeal – so I was eagerly anticipating this one too.
Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSE’s are looming, his dad wants him to join the family business while he dreams of designing comic books, and he’s becoming increasingly unsure of the direction his group of mates is taking.
Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly, but when Kelly is caught up in his gang’s toxic bet, Ilyas must decide where his loyalties lie.
While I didn’t feel this broke the mould in the same way I Am Thunder did, it nevertheless tackles some difficult and important subjects – racism, revenge porn, gangs, bullying and peer-pressure not to mention culture, family and friendship – and it does so with sensitivity, awareness and realism.
Similarly, when I first started reading the book, it felt like there were a lot of stereotypes at play. However, as I read on, they felt necessary, believable and, perhaps most importantly, familiar.
There’s a lot in this book teens will recognise and all of it feels well-described, with voices that sound natural and real, not forced or too ‘adult’. There is a lot of slang used in the dialogue and this feels carefully considered, well-researched and integral to the characters and the story which just would not have the same effect without the characters speaking as they really would.
Immensely relatable, my heart went out to Ilyas as he struggled with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, but it also cheered as he found the courage to stand up for what he believed in and grew in confidence.
This is a book which really understands how hard it can be to find yourself trapped in a bad situation and how it can be even harder to get out of it again. The increasing desperation came across powerfully and will be so familiar to so many. It shows how confusing and difficult teenage years can be as you try to find your way, your goals, your ‘people’ and of course yourself.
A story of hope, change and self-belief: I really enjoyed this and it deserves to be a big hit with contemporary YA fans.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. Cover design by Tim Marrs.
Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
The Hate U Give was one of my favourite books of last year – powerful, hard-hitting and brutally honest, it was truly something else.
On The Come Up returns to ‘The Garden’ (Garden Heights) where THUG was set and – while it isn’t a sequel and reads perfectly well as a stand-alone book – there is much overlap, with events from THUG seeing their consequences reaching into On The Come Up.
As with ‘Kick the Moon’, this didn’t feel quite so ground-breaking as THUG, but still tackles some very important issues – racism, poverty, class, misrepresentation, drugs and gang affiliation – in a compassionate but unsentimental way which very much holds a mirror up to certain aspects of society and the media.
Angie Thomas is an incredible writer – her characters feel real and complex, their relationships and lives the same. Bri’s mum in particular struck a chord with me, while the changing dynamics of Bri and her best friends’ relationships will no doubt hit home for many readers.
Bri herself is incredibly likeable – and if you’ve read THUG and liked Starr, you’ll love Bri just as much if not more: fiercely determined, stretching her wings and aiming for the sky, she is a character with big dreams, plenty of hope and just as much fire…which, whether rightly or wrongly, can lead to trouble.
It was near impossible for me to like this as much as I did THUG, but it was still brilliant and readers from all backgrounds will find both things they relate to and other things which open their eyes or make them pause for thought. It is a book brimming with friendship, love, hip hop and hope!