Written in an urban vernacular that’s electrifying and intimate, On the Come Up introduces a heroine whose voice is irrepressible, dynamic, and unstintingly honest. Thirteen-year-old AnnMarie Walker dreams of a world beyond Far Rockaway, where the sway of the neighborhood keeps her tied to old ideas about success. While attending a school for pregnant teens, AnnMarie comes across a flyer advertising movie auditions in Manhattan. Astonishingly, improbably, and four months before she’s due to give birth—she lands a lead role. For a time, AnnMarie soars—acting for the camera, flying to the Sundance Film Festival, seeing her face on-screen. But when the film fades from view and the realities of her life set in, AnnMarie’s grit and determination are the only tools left to keep her moving forward.
Told with remarkable compassion and based on the real-life story of Anna Simpson, whom the author met during the filming of the award-winning Our Song, Hannah Weyer’s debut novel is an incredible act of literary ventriloquism that powerfully illuminates the lives of the urban unseen.
Why I liked it: In On the Come Up, AnnMarie begins the novel as a 13 year old girl struggling to take care of her mother and herself. The novel covers all sorts of teenage issues: abuse (both physical and sexual), gangs, drug use, violence, sexual identity, teenage pregnancy, mean girls, relationships, etc. but what struck me most was the character's voice.
"She didn't know why Brittany hated her, just that she did. It all got started sometime last year, Brittany saying, Stay away from Rashad. AnnMarie'd said, Rashad? Who the f*ck Rashad? But it didn't matter, they jumped her anyway and it went on from there...
AnnMarie stared daggers into that girl. She hope they eyes meet so Brittany could feel the cut, all them blades slicing her apart. But Brittany didn't notice. Her arm shot up, waving to somebody across the auditorium. F*ck that girl."
Classroom application: I am always looking for strong African American female characters to share with my students. Too often the books they are reading with African American female characters fall under my definition of "sexy trash." In On The Come Up, AnnMarie's speech and thoughts are that of a real urban teenager. She isn't perfect, she doesn't make all the right choices (or all the wrong ones), and every day is a struggle. This is no ghettoized romance novel. There is no happy ending, though there is some hope that AnnMarie is growing and learning from her past mistakes.
I also think I could use excerpts from this book for examples as I teach my students narrative writing in following Linda Christensen's ideas from Teaching for Joy and Justice. Show them an example of good dialogue and then have them write their own. Show them an example of good "blocking" (description of a character's actions) and then have them write their own.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of On the Come Up for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.For more book suggestions for teachers and students:
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