Monday, 6 September 2010

Review: True Believer

Dear Blog,
I finished True Believer this afternoon.  Hence, I have a review-

Summary (from Goodreads): At 15, LaVaughn already knows that life is hard and that getting ahead takes a strong mind and an even stronger will. Surrounded by poverty and violence, she strives every day not to be just another inner-city statistic: "My hope is strong like an athlete. Every morning when we walk through the metal detectors to get into school ... it is an important day of dues-paying so I can go to college and be out of here." Last year when she babysat for Jolly, a young unwed mother, she saw firsthand how an unplanned pregnancy can diminish options. So she ignores the boys, studies hard, and hopes it will all be enough to get her into college. Then Jody moves back into the neighborhood. Once LaVaughn's childhood friend, Jody is now "suddenly beautiful... He could be in movies the way the parts of his face go together." If LaVaughn's choices were difficult before Jody, now they're almost impossible. What LaVaughn doesn't know is that Jody has difficult decisions of his own to make--decisions that could turn her carefully ordered world upside down.

Review: a couple of weeks ago I read and loved Make Lemonade (review here).  I found a copy of True Believer at a library a few miles away from my house and, as I do when I see books I’ve been wanting for a while with more enthusiasm than usual, grabbed it and rushed to take it out as if somebody was going to steal it while I held it.

The story picks up from where Make Lemonade left off: Jolly has moved on, going to school with extra funding to help her support Jilly and Jeremy, and LaVaughn is studying hard and taking extra classes to help her achieve her dream of going to college. In this second book of the trilogy, LaVaughn is slightly older and her world is slightly bigger; she’s contemplating life, religion, sex, heaven, hell, her place in the universe, the future, her relationship with her mother and LaVaughn’s reactions to her having a boyfriend, who she feels is replacing her dad, and LaVaughn’s own first love. All in all, she has a lot to deal with and to think about.

And Virginia Euwer Wolff writes about it excellently. LaVaughn’s voice is so clear throughout the book, it’s like she’s talking directly to the reader and confiding in them, after her own best friends Annie and Myrtle reject her. And you find yourself rooting for her. LaVaughn is in turn serious, entertaining, hardworking, and hopelessly romantic. Above all, despite everything, she has faith in herself. To quote from both part of a poem and the title of the book, she is a true believer. Her confidence and self-belief is kind of inspiring. But maybe that’s just me, being the insecure and fretful little thing that I am.

I’m not sure what I think of the romance between LaVaughn and Jody. On one hand, the conclusion to what was going on between them was slightly disappointing, but on the other it was sweet and utterly delightful. Some people would argue that nothing much really happens between them. I beg to differ. The moments where they’re together -at the dance, when Jody is practicing his lifeguard skills and LaVaughn pretends to drown for him, at the party- are just so sweet. And true, too- LaVaughn’s first experiences with love are full of ups and downs in turn.

I’ve read more free-verse novels in the last few months than I can count. When I read them I always have a good think about the writing style. What happens is nice enough, but sometimes the “poetry” just sounds like prose that’s been through a shredder. The way LaVaughn talks make it seem more like verse than *poetry*, à la Ellen Hopkins, but there are moments when the poetry just shines through in a “ta-da!” sort of way. The realistic dialogue makes the moments of true poetry really stand out.

In three words: beats the predecessor.
Recommended for: everybody who wants to know what happens to LaVaughn next.
Rating: 5. Even better than Make Lemonade.

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