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Excerpt from Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson, Ellen Hagen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson, Ellen Hagen

Watch Us Rise

by Renee Watson, Ellen Hagen
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  • First Published:
  • Feb 12, 2019
  • Paperback:
  • Feb 2020
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Print Excerpt

AUGUST
1
JASMINE

I'm a month away from starting my junior year of high school, and I just found out my father only has four months to live.

I don't really hear all of what Mom and Dad are saying. Just the important words like "cancer" and "out of remission" and "stage four."

Chelsea is the first person I call. We've been friends since elementary school. I know once I tell her, she'll tell Nadine and Isaac, which is good because I only want to say it once.

I don't know what I'd do without Chelsea, Nadine, and Isaac. They are the kind of friends who make even the ordinary day fun, who scrape every dollar they can to chip in on a birthday gift. The kind of friends who know the magic of making Rice Krispies Treats, the joy of curling up under blankets to watch back- to- back episodes of a favorite show with bowls of popcorn that we eat as fast as we can and make more. They are the kind of friends that show up at my house— even though I told them not to— to make sure I am okay.


Here they are on my stoop. Chelsea saying, "I needed to see your face."

Nadine hugs me. "We won't stay long ... unless you want us to. Whatever you need, we got you."

Isaac doesn't say anything. He just looks at me, and I know he knows this feeling all too well. His mom died when we were in elementary school. I was too young to drop everything and rush over to his house back then, but I remember when he came back to school, his eyes empty of the light they usually carried. I remember when our teacher had us make Mother's Day cards to take home and how he left to go to the bathroom and never came back. After school, when I saw him in the hallway, his eyes were red.

Isaac just sits on the top step of the stoop, right next to me, and really, that's all I want. Just someone to be here. Yeah, he knows.

We don't last long outside because it is too hot. Harlem's sun is blazing down on us, so we go inside and sit in the living room. Dad is on the sofa. I sit next to him. No one knows what to say or do when they see Dad. Dad cuts through the tension, acting like his normal self, like today is just a regular sunny New York day. "The young art-ivists have arrived," he says. He calls us art-ivists because we're all growing into ourselves as artists and activists. Well, that's what he says.

Chelsea is the poet.

Nadine is the singer (and a pretty good DJ too). Isaac is the visual artist.

I am the writer and actress.

According to Dad, art is never just art, and since there is so much going on in the world we should be using our art to say something, do something. So when he asks, "What have you all been up to this summer?" and we answer in syncopation with shrugging shoulders, saying I don't know, he says, "you mean to tell me you all haven't created anything this summer?" He gives us all a disappointed look and says to Chelsea, "Not even one poem?" Before she can answer, Dad says, "And, Isaac, I know you know better." He says this to Isaac because Isaac's grandparents were part of the Young Lords Party, a Puerto Rican civil rights group. They helped to start Palante, a newspaper in the South Bronx that told news of the Young Lords. "There is no way you get a pass for not doing anything meaningful this summer," Dad says.

Isaac doesn't even try to talk himself out of it.

Dad keeps fussing. "You all have had so much time to take advantage of the city, and you haven't done anything? That is some kind of tragedy." He is smiling, kind of.

"There hasn't been much to do," Nadine says.

Dad shakes his head. "There's always something to do in New York." He starts coughing— hard— and everyone panics, rushing to get him water, tissues. Chelsea especially. "I'm okay. I'm okay. Just allergies," Dad says. "Dying people have regular ailments too." He laughs, but none of us do. Then he says, "I know Jasmine told you. Thank you for loving her enough to come over."

Excerpted from Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson. Copyright © 2019 by Renee Watson. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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