‘Uptown Dreams’ shares stories of teens reaching for the stars

You knew exactly what you were going to do.

You might have been 3 or 5 or 10 years old. Maybe the realization hit you last summer or last week, but you knew there’d be no stopping you. From the moment you understood that you had talent — that "Hey, this is fun and I’m good at it!" moment — you knew what you were going to do with it.

You’d be taking that gift to the top.

In the new book "Uptown Dreams" by Kelli London, four students at Harlem’s Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) are headed the same way up. But their path to the top will be a long climb.

As the oldest child in her family, 14-year-old La-La Nolan always ends up taking care of her little siblings — and there are a lot of them. What’s worse is that her mother, Boom-Keisha (so-called because people look at her and boom! Keisha’s pregnant again) is … pregnant again.

But La-La has a way out of the projects. She has the voice of an angel, and that got her into Harlem’s CAPA, a school that’s a stepping stone to Julliard. Now if she could only meet that boy she saw on campus, everything would be perfect.

If it wasn’t for his brother and their illegal street booth, Ziggy Phillip wouldn’t be at CAPA.

Surely, his father would never pay the tuition. Ziggy’s father thought that male dancers are all gay, which isn’t true. Ziggy loves girls, especially thick girls, but he loves to dance even more. If he could dance with the beauty whose name he doesn’t know, he would do nothing but dance.

Though Reese Allen’s mother wants Reese to go to Julliard, that’s not Reese’s dream. Reese would do anything to produce music, even if it means defying her mother, the director of CAPA. Even if it means breaking her mother’s rules.

Jamaica-Kincaid Ellison was supposed to be at a posh boarding school in Connecticut. Instead, she ran away from that school and from her rich parents so she could live in New York and go to CAPA.

She never wanted her parents’ money. She only wants to act, and being a blonde white girl in Harlem is a great way to stand out.

Four students, four talents, four paths to fame. But can they all catch their dreams despite the obstacles?

A little like the movie "Fame" but without the music, "Uptown Dreams" includes some romance but not a lot of boy-girl drama. London put some humor in here, but pay attention. There are some very mild curse words, but nothing the average 12-and-up reader can’t handle. There’s even a nice mystery that leaves fans hanging and made me wonder if there’s a sequel.

I sure hope there is.

I hope there is because this is a real, believable book that teens will love, filled with characters they’ll want to see again, and follow. For anyone reaching for the stars, in fact, reading "Uptown Dreams" would be the thing to do.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s children’s book reviews weekly.

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