Publisher/Date: Nan A. Talese, July 2013
Genre(s): Young Adult, Coming of Age
“It came to her just before sleep, an idea crystallizing in the dark—how maybe the size of your world ain’t what matter, whether it expand or shrink up or expand again—how maybe it was about finding your place in it. Hurdles to jump. You jump. Erase the lines, draw new ones. Chart a course and follow.”
By the time AnnMarie Walker realizes how to make her way in the world, she’d already been pregnant at 13, starred in a motion picture at 15, and fallen in love with a woman at 18. Her life had been full of accomplishments and setbacks, laughter and tears, kisses and bruises – but along the way, she never stopped dreaming.
It’s the thing I love most about AnnMarie, and it’s also the reason ON THE COME UP: A NOVEL, BASED ON A TRUE STORY is one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year.
A novel based on a true story, On the Come Up by filmmaker Hannah Weyer recounts the coming-of-age of AnnMarie, a teen embedded in a Far Rockaway, Queens housing project after being shuffled around the foster system. She’s back living with her mother, Blessed, who left Trinidad to escape her abusive relationship. Brooklyn-born AnnMarie has typical teenage hopes: making money for back-to-school clothes (Diesel jeans especially), wanting to be noticed by the older guy on the block, better known as Darius Greene. A wannabe music producer, Darius begins to flirt with AnnMarie, and she’s in love. This love manifests itself into sex with no protection, eventually leading to a baby – and of course with foolish promises of being together forever.
At her school for pregnant teens, AnnMarie spies a flyer for a movie audition. Despite being 21 weeks pregnant, she lands a lead role in a film about female friendship, and the set, the cast and the director inspire her to dream beyond Darius’ disappearing act, her mother’s disability and deal with her new life as a mother. The movie encourages her to see a world beyond the Rock as she is swept into Sundance movie premieres and sees herself on the big screen.
After her dizzying turn as an actress, reality plays a bigger role as AnnMarie raises baby Star without much help from Darius, and without a high school diploma or GED. It’s her determination that lands her a job being a home nurse, while time after time taking hard-knocks.
The harshest lessons AnnMarie learns are about love. Without a father figure, AnnMarie sees how proud Darius is to make a baby, but not enough to raise their child. He could dog her, beat her, and still want to call himself a “father,” until AnnMarie recognizes his mistreatment is not worth tolerating just so Star will have the father she never had. Surprisingly, it’s a woman who shows AnnMarie what love is, someone who actually cares about the well-being of her and Star. The kind of love AnnMarie is worthy of.
AnnMarie Walker…engaging, smart, and endearing. Those are the best words I can use to describe her. On the Come Up, I must admit, is not a book for everyone – the omission of quotation marks to indicate who’s speaking makes it hard to follow at times; the vernacular and grittiness of the characters aren’t certain folks cup of tea; and the secondary characters could be stronger. However, On the Come Up is authentic. It’s a credit to Weyer, a screenwriter whose credits include the HBO movie Life Support featuring Queen Latifah, who won a Golden Globe for her role. She’s worked with teens in the media arts for 15 years, and it’s evident. AnnMarie could have been any girl growing up in her neighborhood, but her insightfulness and fortitude is shown even from the first pages, as she’s selling her kool-aid pops and Polaroid pics near the beach, when she takes the A train to an against-odds audition, as she’s falling in love…
She thought, What the fuck you got to be afraid of. You is you. Fuck everybody and they opinion. If you love her, then you love her.
You is you.
Reviewed August 2013