Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Review: Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff

UPDATE to this post: 

Hi, you. Yeah, you with the school paper due in a few hours and who didn't read Make Lemonade like you were supposed to, so you thought you'd try and see if there's a book review online and you've found this one.  (Been there, done that ... except in the pre-Internet world of the '80s.)  I'm glad you're here, and I'm flattered that you find this book review worthy of plagiarism.  Truly, I am most honored, as greater writers than I have never been plagiarized.

As a mom, though, I kind of feel like it is my duty, of sorts, to let you know that this is one of the most popular blog post here, according to the search terms and the hits.  So, if you're passing off this review as your own, there's a pretty damn good chance that someone else has gotten to this party before you.  Might even be someone in your class.  Which would kind of suck if your teacher was smart enough to figure out that you're both quoting from the same blogger. 

But listen, your secret is safe with me.  Quote away. Just promise me this:  when and if you get caught, can you make sure you give your teacher the url of this blog?  I think he or she might like what she sees here. 

Today's a day of errands for me and later tonight, I'm hoping to spend some time finishing Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf for the Woolf in Winter read-along. So, for today, I thought I'd give you a review of a book I read a few months ago, by another Virginia Wolff.

Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Fourteen-year old LaVaughan recognizes that the ticket out of her urban neighborhood includes going to college. To earn money towards tuition, LaVaughn begins babysitting after school for Jilly and Jeremy, the toddler children of 17 year old Jolly, an unwed mother who works the night shift in a factory.

While caring for Jilly and Jeremy as if they were her own, and struggling to keep her own schoolwork and aspirations on track, LaVaughan gets a real-life lesson from Jolly in choices and how one's decisions can impact not only your life but those of others.

It's a lesson that LaVaughn already knows too well, becoming wise well beyond her 14 years in the aftermath of her father's accidental killing on a nearby playground by a gang member. She saw then how others' decisions affect others, and she sees a similar scenario in Jolly's life. Where all others have seemingly abandoned Jolly and her children, LaVaughn becomes the family's young and unlikely advocate and role model for the kids. She imbues them with a sense of safety, stability, and even a little bit of fun in their lives that is sorely lacking and missing.

Written in poetic verse form, Virginia Euwer Wolff's young adult novel is a quick read. (It's perfect for a Read-a-thon book.) It's subject matter is heavy, yes, and a bit on the depressing side, but ultimately Make Lemonade is a story of hope and the universal struggle to better oneself and how sometimes others recognize that quality in ourselves before we come to realize it ourselves. It's also a story of how it truly does take a village to raise a child - whether they are toddlers, as Jilly and Jeremy are, or a 17-year old, as Jolly is.

The short stanzas in Make Lemonade worked well, and were appealing to me. I especially liked how the specific race of the characters was left unsaid. It's easy to make assumptions, but leaving the character's race unspoken supports one of the book's premises that it is easy to do so.

Before entering the world of book blogging, it would have never occurred to me to pick up a young adult novel. Now my perspective has changed and I find myself visiting (perhaps with a little vicariousness?) the teen fiction section of the library - which, for full FTC disclosure purposes, is where I got Make Lemonade.

I'm also reading more young adult books because there is the possibility that the novel I started for NaNoWriMo may morph into a YA book. I'm thinking the story could lend itself better to that and if so, I'd better get familiar with today's YA, as opposed to that that I grew up with in the 1980s. (Not like there's anything wrong with my brand, far from it. It's just that it's a whole new world.) Virginia Euwer Wolff seems to be a good author to read in that regard, and I am very glad I discovered her.

Make Lemonade is the first book in a trilogy, and it is also the recipient of numerous children's literature awards. I was surprised to learn that it was written in 1993, as it continues to be relevent 16 years later. True Believer, published in 2001 is the second in the series, and This Full House (which took seven years to write and was published earlier this year) is the final installment.

Publishers Weekly has a great interview here with author Virginia Euwer Wolff (who once lived in Philadelphia!) The interview does contain a spoiler or two about the second and third books in the trilogy, just so you know.

See what other bloggers had to say (and let me know if I missed your review!)

Kidliterate (contains discussion about True Believer and This Full House)


David A. Bedford said...

If you are reading a lot of teen novels now, you may enjoy my new release, Angela 1: Starting Over. It is the first in a series of three set in coastal Texas. To find out more about the book, just click on my name and follow the link to my web site.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Thanks, David. I'll check it out.