Sunday, 1 August 2010

Review: Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Dear Blog,
before I start, I better give an explanation for why I didn't do a Foreign Language Friday post on Friday.  The answer is, I couldn't get through the book I was going to read for it last week, a.k.a Perfume by Süskind, and I realised it was better to not review it at all than just half of the book, a.k.a all that I read of it.  If that is a feeble enough excuse, then I hope you forgive me.  I have a couple of Jostein Gaarders on my shelf I need to read, so hopefully I'll enjoy one of those a little more.
Anyway.  Onwards and upwards, as they say.

Summary (from Goodreads): LaVaughn needed a part-time job, something she could do after school to help earn money for college. Jolly needed a babysitter, someone she could trust with two kids while she worked the evening shift.
It didn't matter that LaVaughn was fourteen, only three years younger than Jolly. It didn't matter that Jolly didn't have a husband or a mom and dad, because LaVaughn gives Jolly and her two babies more love and understanding than should be possible for a fourteen-year-old, because if she doesn't no one else will.

Review: You don't know how long I've waited to read this book, a.k.a a very long time.  I first saw it while scouring Goodreads for good verse novels and the cover, which is to be frank absolutely awesome and one of my favourite book covers of all time, caught my eye.  Anyway, when I found a copy in the darkest corner of my local library I checked it out and was out the door before you can say "lemonade".  Anyway, now that I've read it, how glad I am that I did!

The novel is told in spare free-verse poetry, complete with grammatical and spelling errors, as if LaVaughn is talking directly to you.  Speaking of which, how are you supposed to pronounce that name? La-Vawn? La-Von? Either way, she was to my mind the true hero of the story; determined, hardworking, funny, caring, and just so ordinary.  The aforementioned writing style including spelling errors that imitate somebody actually talking seemed to make her seem all the more realistic. Also, it made me happy that she started to correct her "ain't"s and "don't got"s and such by the end of the book.  What's not to like about her?  She tries hard to break the cycle of poverty, go to college and leave where she and her mother have lived in the inner city.  Speaking of which, it's a very gritty book, but not unpleasant; it's strangely light-hearted, and the end of the book is hopeful.

However, I wasn't sure at first what to make of Jolly, the teenage mother whose two kids LaVaughn babysits. In some respects, she was caring, determined and such, but now and again I wanted to shake her and exclaim, "come on, Jolly, pull yourself together!" In that respect I guess I'm much like LaVaughn's mother, who even though seemed kind of strict, just wanted the best for her daughter. Anyway, I know it must have been really hard for her, but her lack of doing anything, i.e when her boss sexually harasses her and then fires her, going back to school, and so  on.  Thankfully, LaVaughn's determination helped her get back on her feet and by the end of the book, they were both, as the title suggests, making lemonade.  All I can say is to quote from the title of a review on Amazon which is titled "make me more lemonade!"  I don't even like lemonade.  Well, Make Lemonade makes me like lemonade, even though I can't stand to drink it, if that makes any sense.   

One thing that got on my nerves slightly was the lack of description.  I know that this is is told in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way, but I had no idea of what any of the characters looked like, and when LaVaughn first met Jolly, Jeremy and Jilly, it seemed very sudden and seemed to sort of throw the reader into the deep end.  Which was strange, because even though it's only 170 pages or so, by the end of it I felt like the characters were my best friends, even though I didn't have the faintest idea of what any of them looked like.

It's a pretty easy read, easily devoured in one sitting, but along the way there are such tender and powerful moments that make you sort of do a double take and go back  to re-read the last sentence/poem/page/whatever.  In that respect it reminds me of Jinx by Margaret Wild- don't let the simplicity fool you.  As soon as you finish, you want to a) read it all cover to cover again, and b) order the next two books in the trilogy, True Believer and This Full House, off Amazon and to read them with the same enthusiasm as well. 

In three words: hopeful, powerful, and moving. 

Recommended for: teenagers everywhere and anywhere.
Rating: 4.5

1 comment:

  1. Your sub- topic is explicit and it gave a lot of detailed information about how he wanted a job to get money from college. Also "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" it means that lemons are sour and lemonade is a sweet drink: life can bring you down and up but it could also give you difficult times as the point when LaVaughn didn't have a job.


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