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Make Lemonade
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Make Lemonade

 

Wolff, Virginia Euwer.  1993.  Make Lemonade.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company Inc.    ISBN: 0805022287. 

 

 

LaVaughn, a fourteen-year-old student, is trying to do something with her life and get into college, but college requires money.  With an okay from her persistent mother, who wants to make sure that LaVaughn knows that school work must come first, she takes a babysitting job.  She baby-sits for a seventeen-year-old unwed mother, Jolly who has two children: Jeremy who is almost 3, and Jilly, who is still an infant.     Through babysitting LaVaughn and Jolly develop a friendship.

 

When Jolly loses her job, La Vaughn takes her to “Steam Class” (self-esteem classes) with her and eventually convinces her to go back to school at the “Moms Up” program at the same school.  Throughout the story the reader follows the life of Jolly, Jeremy (as he becomes potty-trained), Jilly and their ups and downs in life as witnessed by LaVaughn.

 

 

 

Wolff has used a very unique style in writing Make Lemonade. The sixty-six chapter book is written in lyrical free verse “with text lines that break at natural speaking phrases”.  For me this line breakage made the story a little confusing to start out with, but I adapted to it and enjoyed the story.  The book is also divided into four parts, all told from first hand knowledge of LaVaughn herself using language that is typical of a disadvantaged teenager.   Each section of the book addresses the ups and downs in the characters lives.

 

 

Wolff does a wonderful job of setting this story in an area that would be considered the ‘projects’.  LaVaughn has to take several buses, which are the main source of transportation, in order to get to Jolly’s apartment.   What makes this story even more true to life is that Wolff has include aspects of what people think about the project areas: filthiness and broken elevators.  When LaVaughn arrives at Jolly’s apartment the first time she really can’t believe what she sees “the plates were pasted together with noodles and these rooms smell like last week’s garbage/the kitchen floor has the creamed spinach I spilled a month ago/stuck in the high-chairs corners are margarine and rotten banana goo.”

 

The best part of this story is the characters that Wolff has created.  Your heart breaks for Jolly when she comes home bleeding and when she loses her job.  You will want to pull for her to rise above what life has dealt her: being a mother of two at the young age of seventeen with no high school diploma and unmarried.  You will also get a chance to see the strong will in LaVaughn as she sees the life that Jolly lives and strives to make sure that she is able to go to college and get away from the life of the projects. “That’s why the word COLLEGE is in our house all the time, it’s why I babysit, it’s why I do all the homework all the time, it’s what will get me out of here.”   The babysitter helping to raise two small children, teaching Jeremy how to go to the potty and giving Jilly a bath; while their mother tries to work in order to provide for them. 

 

Wolff has created an inspiring story teaching us about friendship and determination that we all could learn a lesson from: when life deals you lemons it is possible to make lemonade.  We also need to remember what LaVaughn’s mother said, “Bootstraps go in 2 directions/ either up or down/ You choose/ and remember you choose.”  Very important information for young adults to understand.  Though there are rough times you can get through them, but you always have a choice to make. 

 

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