Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"On the Come Up"

Hannah Weyer is a filmmaker whose narrative and documentary films have won awards at the Sundance, Doubletake Documentary, and South by Southwest film festivals. Her screenwriting credits include Life Support (2007), directed by Nelson George, which earned a Golden Globe Award for Queen Latifah, who starred in the film. An advocate for youth, 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 progressive high school in Brooklyn.

Weyer applied the Page 69 Test to On the Come Up, her first novel, and reported the following:
On the Come Up follows a girl named AnnMarie Walker from ages 12 to 18 as she navigates the sway of her socially isolated neighborhood of Far Rockaway, Queens and passes into adulthood.

What becomes clear as you sink into the story is that while AnnMarie is a regular kid—at times naive, pig-headed, brash, single-minded—she has this remarkable ability to be optimistic about life, a quality that helps her face down conflict and climb social barriers.

Part of AnnMarie's odyssey toward self-possession is the slow recognition that the relationship with her boyfriend and father of her child is a violent, unhealthy one. In AnnMarie's world, violence and abuse are normalized, even mundane. To see life any other way is one of her greatest challenges.

On page 69, AnnMarie walks in on her best friend, Niki, who is making out with a girl AnnMarie's never met before. While she may have suspected Niki's love of girls, it is a topic that neither friend has openly discussed. This scene captures one moment in a thread that is drawn throughout the book, a thread that traces AnnMarie's growing awareness that upending the status quo is a possibility and perhaps a path toward re-configuring her life.

Page 69:
At first Ann Marie didn’t know what they doing, why Niki was pressed up against the plump girl like that. Then she saw Niki’s hands draw away, her lips pulling out of a kiss and Ann Marie took a step back, startled.

What you want, Ann Marie? Niki said sharply.

Oh. Sorry, I was just looking for y’alls.

Niki snapped the pick from her back pocket and started working it through her cinnamon curls. Sorry, Ann Marie said again. She crossed the room and sat on Niki’s bed. No one said anything for a minute, then Ann Marie pulled out a pack of Kools and said, You want one? Sure, I have one, the girl said and plucked a smoke from the pack.

She said, I’m Latania, who you? Ann Marie told the girl her name, then they lit up, blowing streams out the open window. Latania said, Turn on the radio, Niki, so Niki put on the radio and they listened to Hot 97 for a while, DJ Drastic playing a string of songs, and by the time “Waterfalls” came on, Niki seemed to’ve relaxed and they all started in about the hottest girl groups—TLC, En Vogue, SWV, Destiny’s Child...

Later, Latania caught a dollar van back to Jamaica where her mother lived and Niki walked Ann Marie home.

They walked a ways in silence. Niki’s shoulder brushing hers, cigarette smell still on her breath.

Don’t say nothing to Nadette.

Nadette? Why would I.

Jus’ don’t say nothing to nobody.

Ann Marie said, I won’t.

And she didn’t. But she thought about all the times Niki had slipped off with Nadette, all the things she hadn’t known, and it crystallized right then, how sometimes you grow up without nobody having to explain.
Learn more about the book and author at Hannah Weyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue