Sometimes I dream that I’m drowning. It’s always in a big, blue ocean that’s too deep for me to see the bottom. But I tell myself I’m not going to die no matter how much water gets in my lungs or how deep I sink, I am not going to die. Because I say so.
Suddenly, I can breathe underwater. I can swim. The ocean isn’t so scary anymore. It’s actually kind of cool. I even learn how to control it.
But I’m awake, I’m drowning, and I don’t know how to control any of this.
Bri Jackson is sixteen and lives in Garden Heights. He father was on his way up in the rap community before he was shot and killed by a local gang. Her mother, once a drug addict, is now eight years sober and doing her best to take care of the family, but it’s hard to make ends meet. Bri’s brother, Trey, has a college degree but the only job he has been able to find work at the local pizza joint. Bri attends Midtown School of the Arts (bused in as part of their “diversity initiative”) and focuses on poetry. But in her heart, she wants to be a rapper. She is chosen to participate in a rap battle in The Ring, and she seems to be on her way to making a name for herself. However, after an incident at school, Bri finds herself known for more than her rapping. Much like Starr (from The Hate U Give), Bri finds herself at the center of a controversy where they want to use her for “the cause” and she must decide what she wants to do.
This book is the second novel from Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, and takes place in the same community as the first novel. The shooting from the first novel is mentioned a number of times, and creates a sense of familiarity and continuity between the two. Bri’s anger over a system designed to inhibit her success is palpable, and you can see her struggle with controlling her own life.
“We can’t have any power, either. I mean, think about it. All these people I’ve never met have way more control over my life than I’ve ever had. If some Crown hadn’t killed my dad, he’s be a big rap star and money wouldn’t be an issue. If some drug dealer hadn’t sold my mom her first hit, she could’ve gotten her degree already and would have a good job. If that cop hadn’t murdered that boy, people wouldn’t have rioted, the daycare wouldn’t have burned down, and the church wouldn’t have let Jay go. All these folks I’ve never met became gods over my life. Now I gotta take that power back.”
Through her rhymes she finds her power, and uses it to release some of her anger. But even that gets misinterpreted, even by her own family. Others connect with her song, and use it during a protest at school.
“I have a moment. Of all the places and times to have one, I do. See, those words started in my head. Mine. Conceived from my thoughts and my feelings. Birthed through my pencil and onto my notepad. Somehow, they’ve found their way to my classmates’ tongues. I think they’re saying them for themselves, yeah, but I know they’re saying them for me.”
We couldn’t put this book down, and we loved seeing Bri navigate her reality. It makes you wonder, if you were offered the chance of a lifetime, but had to pretend to be someone else, would you be able to do it? And would you even want to?