On the Come Up: A Novel, Based on a True Story

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Book Reviews

from the fabulous Angela Carstensen:

on-the-come-up-202x300WEYER, Hannah. On the Come Up: A Novel, Based on a True Story. 320p. Nan A. Talese. July 2013. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780385537322.

Adult/High School–AnnMarie lives in the isolated urban community of Far Rockaway, Queens with her mother, Blessed, a West Indies immigrant, barely subsisting on disability and welfare. As the novel opens, AnnMarie is selling homemade popsicles on the beach and crushing on Darius, an older boy with his own recording studio. She is a talented singer who longs to go out with her older friends. Somehow she remains an innocent in a world in which gang violence and sex are ubiquitous. Even so, not far into ninth grade she finds herself 14 and pregnant. Darius is excited; AnnMarie is proud but scared–Darius is not the prince he initially seemed to be. He makes money robbing local stores and becomes abusive after his equipment is repossessed. AnnMarie transfers to a school for pregnant teens where she sees a flyer advertising open auditions for an independent film. She takes the subway to Manhattan for the first time in her life and, after many callbacks and meetings, gets the part. Filming begins right after her daughter is born, and suddenly she’s working long days and up most nights with the baby. The film has a short but successful run and makes it to the Sundance Festival. But just how does it change AnnMarie’s life? Suffice it to say, there is no fairytale ending, but simply expanding her world beyond Far Rock makes a difference. Filmmaker Weyer based her novel on a true story and uses an authentic “urban vernacular” to keep it real. While the language and events are not explicit enough to disturb most teens, the story is intimate enough to appeal .–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City 

See Angela’s interview with the author, which is available in the SLJ Teen Newsletter

Weyer based her novel on the life of Anna Simpson, a young women who starred in a film (Our Song) directed by Weyer’s husband. At the time of her audition, Anna was 14, pregnant and living with her mother in the projects of Far Rockaway, Queens. I would like to highlight one of Weyer’s interview answers, which gets to the heart of why her novel is so successful. How did she create a fictional story from the facts of Simpson’s life?

I decided to draw from several key events – the birth of her daughter, her role in Our Song, and her eventual departure from Far Rockaway – to structure the novel.  Using these real events as sign-posts, I began to string together a fictional story about a girl’s rite of passage, an odyssey from one place to another.  In a world where dreams of escape are fed by endless stories of overnight success, celebrity and stardom, sometimes the struggle is as simple as finding your way off the block.

I also agree with Weyer about using her novel in schools:

I think On The Come Up is the kind of story teachers can bring into the classroom to share with their students. AnnMarie’s story lends itself to discussions about class, identity, family histories, generational patterns, domestic abuse and/or the relationship between social isolation and violence in contemporary urban America.

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