Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review: True Believer, by Virginia Euwer Wolff


True Believer
by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster
2002
264 pages

National Book Award Winner
Printz Award Honor Book

Did you ever wish you could reach through the pages of a book and adopt the main character? Bring him or her home for dinner and a heart to heart of grown up wisdom, something filled with the likes of it's going to be all right, or you're a really good kid ?

That's what it's like reading True Believer, the second young adult novel in the Make Lemonade trilogy by Virginia Euwer Wolff.  That's what it was like reading the first in the series (Make Lemonade).  I'd imagine the third would be similar.

In Make Lemonade, the reader falls in love with LaVaughan, a teenage girl living with her widowed mother in a neighborhood that has seen better days. With her eye set on college, LaVaughan works hard in school and as a babysitter in order to earn money that will put her on a path out of the apartment complex where gunshots routinely pierce the air.  (See my review of Make Lemonade here.)

I adored LaVaughan in Make Lemonade, and didn't think it was possible for her to grab hold of my heart even more than she did.  In True Believer, you're pretty much leading the cheering section for her as she gets reassigned into a more challenging college-prep science class. You feel the heartbreak of unrequited love from Patrick, another character in the story, and the pain of losing longtime childhood friends to circumstances you can't quite agree with or even understand.

From the very first opening lines of the book:

When a little kid draws a picture
it is all a big face
and some arms stuck on.
That's their life.


Well, then:
You get older
and you are a whole mess of things,
new thoughts, sorry feelings,
big plans, enormous doubts,
going along hoping and getting disappointed,
over and over again,
no wonder I don't recognize
my little crayon picture.
It appears to be me
and it is
and it is not.

The weak knees and butterflies in the stomach of adolescence come back tenfold as you feel how deeply in love LaVaughan is with Jody, a former neighbor who has moved back to their apartment complex. Virginia Euwer Wolff's descriptions are mini-masterpieces of emotion of that first teenage love.

My chest is so full of heartbeats it jolts my thinking

and

I can't imagine I ever saw such a boy before
and yet it is still the face of Jody from back then.
I get out of the elevator at my floor and I lean on the wall
my heart too loud for comfort
and my brain not so level either.

Who wouldn't be able to conjure up puppy love emotions of one's own after reading that?

Very few characters in a young adult novel that I have read as an adult have seemed so real to me.  It's not like my life story mirrors LaVaughan's (aside from losing one's father very suddenly and at a young age, that is.)  No, this is instead the mark of an extraordinary writer, which I believe that Virginia Euwer Wolff truly is. 

Moreover, I also liked the secondary characters in True Believer. They were all incredibly well-done, especially Patrick, who is LaVaughan's lab partner in her biology class. 

In addition to Beth Kephart's novels, I am now going to suggest the Make Lemonade trilogy to anyone looking for a wonderful young adult read - especially those of us who may be a little past those days.

True Believer is written in verse, just as Make Lemonade is. It's a quick read, and I read this in one sitting. (Both would make for perfect Read-a-Thon books, for those of you participating in the Read-a-thon this coming weekend. Start with Make Lemonade first.)

Just be prepared for one thing: these books will keep hold of your heart.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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