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

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

4.5 12
by Hannah Weyer

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An NAACP Image Award Finalist
An ALA/YALSA Alex Award Nominee

AnnMarie is growing up fast. After years of living in foster homes and homeless shelters, the twelve-year-old girl can take care of herself and her ailing mother. At thirteen, she's competing with other girls for the attention of older boys in the hip hop and rap scene of Far Rockaway. 


An NAACP Image Award Finalist
An ALA/YALSA Alex Award Nominee

AnnMarie is growing up fast. After years of living in foster homes and homeless shelters, the twelve-year-old girl can take care of herself and her ailing mother. At thirteen, she's competing with other girls for the attention of older boys in the hip hop and rap scene of Far Rockaway.  At fourteen, she is in love and pregnant, but dreaming big. Taking a chance, she auditions for an independent film and—astonishingly—lands a lead role. As she tries to raise her baby girl and make sense of her relationship with her baby's father, her work on the movie offers AnnMarie a doorway to a wider world—Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Sundance Film Festival.
With cinematic pacing and a vibrant voice, filmmaker Hannah Weyer’s unforgettable debut novel is a portrait of a tough, determined teenage girl striving to find the life she wants and the love she deserves.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Luminous. . . . AnnMarie is a survivor with rare spirit.”
     —People, four stars

"I couldn't put this book down. This world, this voice, this young woman are all so vividly raw and honest, that my heart was broken open, and I was hooked until the very last page."
Kerry Washington, actress, Scandal

“Formidable. . . . A moving account of AnnMarie’s struggle to free herself of her baby’s poisonous father and leverage her experiences into a better life.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Weyer writes with confidence and agility, and readers will quickly sink into the groove of her storytelling.” —The Wall Street Journal

“AnnMarie is a tenacious and lovable character. . . . Fans of Sapphire’s Push will especially appreciate the honesty and realism of filmmaker and first-novelist Weyer’s writing.” —Booklist

“I fell in love with AnnMarie Walker, a hopeful and headstrong heroine who invents her own chances, turning the smallest opportunities into rare achievements. Here’s a book for anyone who’s ever seen the way the sun shines in a classroom they cannot enter and still wanted that light to shine on them. First you have to want it and this is how it’s done, from victim to victor. A remarkable gift to readers.” Tupelo Hassman, author of Girlchild

“Pitch-perfect. It’s impossible not to root for AnnMarie, a heroine as resilient as she is vulnerable. Weyer is a deeply humane writer who pulls the reader into an inner-city world that’s utterly distinct, yet profoundly relatable.” Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing

“Vibrant. . . . Compassionate. . . . Inspiring . . . without losing its sharp, realistic edge.” Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
This vibrant debut novel based on a real-life story from indie filmmaker Weyer is set in the urban community of Far Rockaway, Queens, and explores the struggles of a local girl trying to carve out a life beyond the expected. When AnnMarie Walker starts eighth grade, she knows that having brand-name jeans and the best voice in her music class doesn’t mean much unless you can back it up with attitude. Her sass attracts the attention of Darius Greene and their romance turns a naïve AnnMarie into an expectant mother at 14. As her belly grows and the relationship takes a violent turn, AnnMarie lands a role in an indie film that expands her world and takes her to Sundance. AnnMarie’s journey to make it as an actor is as rocky as the first few years of single motherhood, and she faces the grim reality of what it takes to succeed in work, family, and love without advantages. Weyer skillfully handles each phase of AnnMarie’s life with a tonality that serves her growing maturity and shifting goals. Weyer’s compassionate storytelling and experience as a mentor for at-risk youth lends her compelling novel an inspiring pathos without losing its sharp, realistic edge. Agent: Alice Tasman, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (July 2013)
Library Journal
Written in realistic-sounding urban vernacular, this first novel by a documentary filmmaker/screenwriter drops readers into the life of street-smart AnnMarie Walker of Far Rockaway, Queens, a New York City neighborhood known for gang violence, Section 8 housing, and lack of reliable public transportation. AnnMarie's story is based on the real-life Anna Simpson, a Far Rockaway teen whom the author met while working on a film with her husband. The book's cover design should draw in fans of urban or street lit. Others may have to be persuaded to discover the touching story buried deep in this novel's gritty realism—much as AnnMarie's vulnerability hides beneath a tough exterior. VERDICT This moving novel about coming of age in a place with few options for at-risk youth should appeal to readers of Sapphire's Push and Tracy Brown's White Lines for its portrayal of young African Americans yearning for more than what is on offer, and maybe to fans of Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her for its slang-soaked language and literary toughness.—Laurie Cavanaugh, Holmes P.L., Halifax, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Thirteen-year-old AnnMarie lives life on the edge in Far Rockaway, Queens, but despite all the odds, she's ultimately triumphant. Weyer presents an urban nightmare that's a deplorable part of too many adolescent lives. AnnMarie lives with her mom, Blessed, and grandmother in the rough, unruly and blighted community of "Far Rock." She tries to earn extra money for school clothes by selling frozen Kool-Aid and peanut butter punch on the beaches, but she aspires to wear Jordache rather than the polka-dot dresses favored by her mother. School presents its own problems, both academic and social. Skipping school becomes routine since, after all, it's boring and irrelevant. Much more seductive is the prospect of hanging out with cool friends and smoking weed. School is also full of taunting students, fights in the hallway and the threat of suspension. The only saving grace is choir, for there, AnnMarie has a caring teacher, Mr. Preston, but also The Voice--she can really rock a song. She begins seeing Darius, a high school dropout with no prospects. He gets her pregnant and promises to marry her when she's 18. But he's not the most trustworthy: Despite his promises, he doesn't show up at Lamaze classes. One day, AnnMarie sees a poster for musical tryouts: "Girls Wanted. All Shapes and Sizes. No Model Types. Come as You Are." Needless to say, this starts a new trajectory for AnnMarie's sense of self and her incipient career. Weyer writes with an ear for authentic urban teen patois, but no matter how authentic, it's ultimately wearing on the reader.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 15

All the bus rides back and forth, AnnMarie had time to think. Out to Jamaica where the school was. The Ida B. girls housed on the ground floor of a three-story cement building used by Rainbow Academy, a suspension site for violent offenders. All the last-chance kids no school wanted. The bus winding along Snake Road past the airport, planes hovering mad low in the icy sky, one after another, their bellies looming as they made their descent. AnnMarie would turn her face from the window. She thought about the little things. Like how she had to pee all the time, how she felt bloated like a whale—face, feet, hands, stomach, legs—but she couldn’t help herself. Pangs a hunger gnawing, she’d go through boxes of saltines with cheese spread, peanut butter out the jar, oranges, mangoes, cornflakes with milk. Song fragments drifted in. She’d try to piece them together, search for the words gone missing but was frustrated by her own fatigue.

She thought about the last time she got up on stage to sing. At the white school over in Cedarhurst. About Mr. Preston’s expression, that look of relief. All the white kids filing out. Principal Man never made no introductions. A whole school full of kids but they shared no conversation, not even a hello. AnnMarie puzzled over it.

What difference do it make anyway. Your feet get swelled, you gain some weight. You buy a slow girl some french fries.

On Wednesday, Crystal was the only girl sitting at the long metal table when she walked into Room 5 at half past nine.

Where is everybody? AnnMarie asked as she dumped her backpack on the floor.

Leandra went to get a sonogram, Miss Westwood said. I don’t know where the other girls are.

AnnMarie said, You okay, Miss Westwood?

I’m okay.

Ain’t you sleeping?

Not so well.

Maybe you pregnant too, AnnMarie joked.

No, AnnMarie, I’m not pregnant. I’m disappointed. I expect you girls to accomplish something here.Now take out your math sheet from yesterday and let’s go over the answers.

AnnMarie dug through her backpack, found the worksheet bunched up at the bottom.

She looked at it. I ain’t finished mines.

So finish it now, Miss Westwood said sharply.

What she tripping for, AnnMarie thought.

She tried to catch Crystal’s eye but that girl on another planet.

At Darius’ house that evening, she sat at the kitchen table with Vanessa, watching two grown men carry first his turntables, then his speakers, up from the basement and out the front door.

What they doing, AnnMarie said quietly.

Darius’ sister shrugged. They been after him for a while. Phone ringing off the hook.

Who been after him, AnnMarie asked.

Z-Sounds. He got his shit on installment. Fuck if he making the payments.

AnnMarie felt a stab of panic so she stood, crossed to the basement door and listened. Installment? He never told her nothin’ about installments. She thought he was fine with money. That they was fine. She heard his footsteps now and backed away as he strode past her and out the front door, the look on his face silencing her.

Vanessa got up and stretched. Then she went outside to watch. AnnMarie followed.

They were loading Darius’ equipment into a black van. Another homie leaned against the driver door, hands folded loose over his crotch, just leaning and waiting, his eye on Darius who stood barefoot on the front porch.

Vanessa sucked her teeth.

Shut yo’ mouth, Darius said. Why you even standing here?

Fuck you. I live here.

Vanessa was further along than AnnMarie, in her seventh month, and her sweatshirt rose up over her belly showing skin.

Look at you, y’all like some ghetto ho, Darius said as he went into the house.

Vanessa tsked, At least I ain’t getting repo’d.

AnnMarie turned, watching the van pull away with Darius’ equipment inside. She could feel the stillness settle on her shoulders, the van disappearing around the corner, Vanessa quiet now in Darius’ absence.

She went down to the studio room to ask him why. To say what happened, baby.

All the wires pulled loose from the walls, laying on the floor like black snakes uncoiled and lifeless.

Darius was putting on his shoes. He said, Don’t say nothing.

AnnMarie tsked, frowning.

Did I? Did I say something, she asked, watching him. Seeing all the pent-up, unspoken inadequacy written as anger across his face. Things gone wrong and nothing to do to stop it. ’Cept a fight, maybe. A fight be good for something. She felt it coming.

The next day, Miss Westwood was happy again, six girls at the metal table when AnnMarie walked in. Camille was saying, Shoot, I get me a C-section. No way I’ma be ripped to shreds. My va-geegee too precious.

Pietra laughed, then groaned, laying her cheek flat on the table. I already got these pains back here, she said.

Miss Westwood reached over and rubbed her lower back, saying, Listen girls, her voice rising above the chatter, giving life is a beautiful thing. A woman’s body is made to do this.

Yeah, but I ain’t no woman, Camille said, I’m still a child, Miss Westwood, and I ain’t gonna let no baby split me in two. Hell, no . . . Camille flounced down next to the teacher and leaned into an embrace.

Don’t worry, you’ll be ready, Miss Westwood said. Her eyes rested on AnnMarie for a moment but she didn’t say nothing about the fat bruise on her cheek.

After the repo van had gone, Darius had chased her up the stairs, banging her up against the wall. Stop, Darius, why you buggin’? she’d said but his backhand slap knocked her silly, sent a flash a pain across her face. White dots popping, face on fire. For a minute, she’d been blind.

Muthafucka. She’d picked a point on the floor and made her blurry eye go there, even with his mouth right up to her ear. You think you all that, up in my business all the time. Then his hand went around her throat and squeezed. What you got to say now.

Maybe she don’t notice, AnnMarie thought. Skin dark chocolate, maybe she don’t see. Then again, this a school after all, not a police station.

Wings: Insect wings are found in many different shapes and sizes. They are used for flying, but also to attract a mate or hide from predators.

AnnMarie tried to focus but couldn’t. Fuck him. Punk-ass muthafucka. Think he the bomb. Think he it. Fuck you, she thought. You no longer the father a my child. I do this my own damn self.

Most insects have two pairs of wings.

Most insects have two pairs of wings.
Most— AnnMarie stood up, walked out of the classroom and down the hall to the drinking fountain. She took a sip a water, wandered down to the front door and looked out the window see what the weather like. Sun out, tha’s good. Maybe she skip out after lunch. She went back to the drinking fountain, stared up at the bulletin board. Somebody had posted a flier. Right in between TEEN SUPPORT GROUP and ARE YOU EXPECTING?

Movie Tryouts!!
Girls Wanted.
All shapes and sizes.
No model types.
Come as you are.

Two days later, she woke up not knowing where she was. She thought she was on a school bus, rumbling over some rough road somewhere way out there, far, far out at the edge of an island, the water glistening so bright she thought her eyeballs would split open but when she let her lids peel apart, the world was dark, everything around her dark and sleepy. She felt the bed beneath her, she was in her own bed, bladder full. She didn’t want to get up so she snuggled deeper, looking at the clock radio. Three o’clock in the morning. That’d been happening lately. Three o’clock, she’d wake up with that anxious feeling. Couldn’t go back to sleep.

She tried to push it aside but there it was: I don’t want this baby. I do not want this baby. Usually she’d roll toward Darius, pull his arm over her waist, find his heart beating there and she’d be okay. But she hadn’t seen him since the fight. Two days. She wondered what he doing.

She sat up in bed, peeled back the curtain and looked out at the gray night. Below her, she watched the streetlamp flicker. A woman came around the corner and passed beneath it, then suddenly ran off in a sprint. Was she running from something or to something? AnnMarie couldn’t tell. There’d been no sound, no other person. What you running for, AnnMarie thought.

She reached over the side of the bed and felt around on the floor, found her backpack, pulled out the flier she’d taken off the wall.

She read it again. She wondered where 404 18th Street was. Flier said Manhattan. She’d never been to Manhattan before. She wondered if they needed girls who could sing.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"On the Come Up is the kind of novel I am always looking for but so rarely find. Hannah Weyer captures the voices of her characters and describes their world with clarity and humanity. An auspicious start for a talented writer." —George Pelecanos
"I couldn't put this book down. This world, this voice, this young woman are all so vividly raw and honest, my heart was broken open, and I was hooked until the very last page." —Kerry Washington, actress, Django Unchained and Ray

Meet the Author

Hannah Weyer is a filmmaker whose narrative and documentary films have been screened at the Human Rights Watch and the New York Film Festivals and have won awards at the Sundance, Locarno, Melbourne, Doubletake, and South by Southwest Film Festivals. Her screenwriting credits include Life Support (2007), directed by Nelson George, which earned a Golden Globe Award for its lead actress, Queen Latifah. Weyer has worked with teens in the media arts for the past fifteen years and, along with her husband, the filmmaker Jim McKay, started an after-school film club at a public high school in Brooklyn. On the Come Up is her first novel.

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On the Come Up: A Novel, Based on a True Story 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
mshoni More than 1 year ago
After reading the last three books by Sister Souljah, which feature young people overcoming odds in ways far beyond their years, it was refreshing to have a more realistic viewpoint. AnnMarie Walker is a 13 year old living in Far Rockaway Queens, New York. This is the type of impoverished neighborhood that is so cut off from the rest of the world that just traveling to Manhattan seems like going to another country. It's literally the last stop on the A train. AnnMarie has dreams like other girls her age: dreams of being in a singing group, dreams of having the hottest fashion, dreams of being loved. Circumstances find her as a student at a school for pregnant teens, and she comes across a flier advertising for extras to appear in an independent film. Curious, she auditions and gets a role in the production. Her involvement with the film open up her world to include other people, neighborhoods, even states. The story is told in an urban vernacular that I found mostly believable. What I loved most is that this is just a story about a young girl who makes decisions just like a 13 year old, even when her responsibilities seem to far exceed her age. It's scary, beautiful, and inspiring all at the same time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you believe, in the power of the human soul, then read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A story of hope and determination. I could not put it down , definitely worth reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up at a friend's house, and ended up stealing it and buying her a new one, cause I couldn't put it down.  I love the cinematic tone, the voice of the woman, and the struggles resonate with me despite how different my life is from the main character.  So good if you want to get into another worth this summer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Exceptional.  AnnMarie is a riveting character because no matter what adversities she faces, her sense of humor and pluck carry her over them.  She never seems to feel sorry for herself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
#Desperate much
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