In simple verse, Virginia Euwer Wolff tells the story of LaVaughn, a young teen charged with babysitting for a teen mother while maintaining good grades and potential for a good future. LaVaughn gets a job caring for Jolly’s children. Jolly, while fiercely attached to her children, is ill-equipped to care for them. With the help of LaVaughn and LaVaughn’s mother Jolly is able to get an education and learn to care for and support her children. During this process, LaVaughn gets an education into the real world, inspiring her to succeed in school to secure a place for herself in college.
I was struck by the simple, yet powerful truth conveyed in this book. The characters in Make Lemonade are faced with enormous struggle that is understated in many cases. Wolff brings the facts to the reader and gives the reader an opportunity to meet half way with empathy and concern for the characters. LaVaughn is naive about Jolly’s challenges in many cases, which likely matches the naivety of the reader. The reader discovers the books’ heartbreaks and triumphs with LaVaughn. This book is written in verse, making it simple and void of fluff. Make Lemonade is a great read for older teens and adults. This book leaved the reader empowered and inspired to create change but person and in others.
Review: Publishers Weekly
Poetry is everywhere, as Wolff (The Mozart Season) proves by fashioning her novel with meltingly lyric blank verse in the voice of an inner-city 14-year-old. As LaVaughn tells it, “This word COLLEGE is in my house, / and you have to walk around it in the rooms / like furniture.” A paying job will be her ticket out of the housing projects, so she agrees to baby-sit the two children of unwed Jolly, 17, in an apartment so wretched “even the roaches are driven up the wall.” Jolly is fired from her factory job and her already dire situation gets worse. Through her “Steam” (aka self-esteem) class, LaVaughn decides that it isn’t honorable to use Jolly’s money to prevent herself becoming like Jolly, so she watches the kids for free while Jolly looks for work. But there are few opportunities for a nearly illiterate dropout, and LaVaughn sees that her unpaid baby-sitting is a form of welfare. Heeding her mother, LaVaughn decides that the older girl has to “take hold.” She prods Jolly to go back to school, where the skills she learns not only change her life but save that of her baby. Radiant with hope, this keenly observed and poignant novel is a stellar addition to YA literature.
I would use Make Lemonade as resource for child development students, teen mothers and crisis center volunteers. While no book or person can predict each challenge a care giver or volunteer might encounter, this book opens up the realm of possibilities for the uninformed while still creating a sense of hope.
Wolff, V.E. (1993) Make Lemonade. New York: H. Holt. ISBN: 080502228.
[Review of the book Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff]. Publishers Weekly, 240(22), 56-56.