The Big Moose Prize Winner


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ISBN: 978-1-62557-056-7
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Down Here We Come Up

Publication Date: August 2023


Winner of the 2022 Big Moose Prize

Down Here We Come Up is about three women who have lost connection with their children, through alienation, adoption, and across a militarized border. Their lives intersect in a “safe house” for migrant workers outside of Wilmington, North Carolina in 2006.

From her deathbed, con-artist Jackie Jessup lures home her estranged 26-year-old daughter Kate Jessup. There, Kate meets former teacher Maribel Reyes, who is separated from her family in Ciudad Juárez. While none of these women trust each other, they do have a chance to get back what they have each lost. But they must rely on each other to hatch a perilous plan Kate doubts could ever work. She knows to distrust the motives behind any of her mother’s plans. Something unseen is smoldering underneath the surface. Kate just needs to figure it out.

As the three women work alongside each other, the evils of human trafficking, the lucrative lure of the drug and weapons trade, and the heartbreak of people fleeing their homelands flow through Jackie’s bungalow day and night.

A story of mothers and daughters, lost children, and broken love, Down Here We Come Up, takes a raw and intimate look at flawed people who are trying to make up for lost time and past miscalculations.


This debut is a literary mic drop. From its propulsive start to its satisfying close, Down Here We Come Up captures the convergence of three women who must weigh what’s unpalatable against what’s best for their children. Maternal sacrifice beats at the heart of this book, but its blood courses through the evolving landscape of race and class in the American south, the expanding drug trade, and the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers. It’s an origin story and an examination of belonging composed in vibrant detail, with tone and themes reminiscent of Where the Crawdads Sing and Netflix’s Ozark. Down Here We Come Up, like the hospitality attributed to its setting, will draw you in and won’t easily let you go.
Alena Dillon, author of Mercy House and Eyes Turned Skyward

Gripping! A fiery young woman returns home, compelled to undo a heart-twisting mistake. Layers of trouble meet her in a sultry North Carolina summer. Sara Johnson Allen delivers a pulsing, gorgeous debut novel full of schemes of survival, schemes of love.
Mary-Beth Hughes, author of The Ocean House

In exquisite prose, Sara Johnson Allen explores motherhood in the face of wrenching economic and racial realities of the American south yet weaves moments of joy and exhilaration throughout. Down Here We Come Up is written with such empathy and grace that I felt I knew these women and will carry them with me for a long time.
–Ana Reyes, author of The House in the Pines

Down Here We Come Up stings, and it stings good. A mother’s love can be as real as it is transactional. A daughter’s roots can endure even as they destroy. Sara Johnson Allen’s North Carolina and larger American landscape are startlingly alive on the page. In the space between its scorched grass and freezer burned peas, the book sizzles and aches. A tenacious and moving work.
–Simon Han, author of Nights When Nothing Happened

Kate thought she’d escaped the poverty and shame of her childhood, but when the mistakes and betrayals of her past come calling, she’s faced with the debts she owes to history, to blood, and must decide how much she is willing to risk to settle them. Tender, honest, and thought-provoking, Down Here We Come Up is an illuminating journey to the dark heart of forgiveness and self discovery. A daring debut from a writer to watch.
–Meagan Lucas, author of Songbirds and Stray Dogs and Here in the Dark

From the moment Kate “borrows” her boyfriend’s car and drives south to confront her past, nothing seemed more important than reading Down Here We Come Up. This is a mother-daughter story like no other: vivid, suspenseful and full of high stakes questions about love, money, sex, children and immigration. A fabulous debut.
Margot Livesey, author of The Boy in The Field

With Down Here We Come Up, Sara Johnson Allen reminds us that home can be an emotionally messy place––and our mothers even messier. Allen masterfully captures these complexities with propulsive, wholehearted storytelling. This is a remarkable and beautifully written debut!
Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

About the Author

© Liz Linder Photography

Sara Johnson Allen

Sara Johnson Allen was raised (mostly) in North Carolina. Her fiction has appeared in PANK Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Reckon Review. She was recently awarded runner-up in the 2022 Third Coast fiction contest. In 2018, she was awarded the Marianne Russo Award for Emerging Writers by the Key West Literary Seminar for her novel-in-progress. In 2019, she received the Stockholm Writers Festival First Pages Prize. She has also been awarded MacDowell fellowships and an artistic grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. When she is not grading papers or chasing after her three kids, she likes to write about ‘place’ and how it shapes us.    

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